Apple Mail’s iOS15 Privacy Protection Impact to Senders
On June 7th at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC 2021) Apple announced that Apple Mail users can now choose to use Apple Mail Privacy Protection. Apple Mail Privacy Protection will allow iOS to privately load remote message content which will hide recipient’s mail activity information like IP and user agent information, including geolocation and device(s) used to engage with the message. Apple Mail Privacy Protection will eliminate the open as being a reliable metric to evaluate user engagement on the sender’s side as all tracking pixels and images will be cached and fired as it hits Apple Mail. Apple is doing this in order to protect user information and increase privacy while also helping to facilitate a richer user experience as Apple Mail users can confidently open, read, and engage with messages without all their email interactions being tracked through remote images and tracking pixels. This will result in all messages that have the Apple Mail Privacy Protection enabled to register an open regardless of whether the recipient has read the email message or not. The end user will also have more confidence in the security of the message including its links.
When a user starts Apple Mail on their iOS device, emails to that user are initiated for download to their device but are first cached by Apple including all images and pixels, to a proxy server that does not expose individual recipient IP addresses but rather a generic IP of the Apple Cache. This happens regardless of if the user actually opens the mail at that time or not. If the user opens the email it pulls the message from the Apple Cache rather than from the original sending source, typically an email service provider (ESP). As a result, senders will not have open tracking insight as all tracking images and pixels will fire as the messages are downloaded to the Apple Cache.
Apple Mail Privacy Protection will apply to email opened on the Apple Mail app. If a user engages messages through another mail application such as the Gmail app, Apple Mail Privacy Protection will not be applied. Apple Mail Privacy Protection is not enabled by default but as you launch the Apple Mail app in iOS 15 initially, the user will be prompted to enable privacy protection which most users will choose to turn on.
Impact to Marketers
There will be a major impact to marketers who rely heavily on open rates as a conversion metric for user engagement as open data will be skewed as messages containing tracking links will fire regardless of if a recipient actually engages with the message or not. However, other data points and user activity will still be available such as click-through rates, onsite activity, and conversion history. These types of metrics will need to be relied upon to supplement open tracking data. Additionally, email deliverability best practices will be more important than ever to help maintain healthy lists and a responsive user base. Best practices such as confirmed opt-in list building, list maintenance & hygiene, consistent sending patterns and cadence, and honoring opt-outs and complaints will be even more important for marketers to adhere to as they adjust to the new Mail Privacy Protection feature.
While Mail Privacy Protection reduces visibility of open rates there are benefits to the user experience as user trust increases in the messages received through Apple Mail. For example, previous users who chose to receive text-only based messages to protect their privacy will now receive the more rich content of the full message providing a better user experience while engaging with the message. Full load of images and content will be sent to the recipients who will have a much higher sense of security in reading/ingesting/actioning the email and its content. Prior to Apple Mail Privacy Protection there could be skepticism of URLs and links within the messages leading to more deletes or false positive, potentially also resulting in more complaints and/or unsubscribes.
There are other benefits of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection to marketers such as validation of email addresses. Since emails are cached as the messages are initiated for download to a device, and as a result it is downloaded to the Apple Cache and the tracking image or pixel is fired, it validates the existence of that email address. This does not mean you should use this feature as a validation tool as mailbox providers such as Gmail will still evaluate senders in part on list hygiene and high invalid requests will still lead to negative sender reputation with those providers. Confirmed opt-in practices are going to be even more crucial for managing healthy and long-term lists for marketers than it was prior to Apple Mail Privacy Protection. If a marketer is unsure about opt-in status, look into creating a re-confirmation campaign and only add back in recipients that re-confirm the opt-in by clicking a confirmation link in the message.
Email is still the most used tool to communicate whether that’s business-to-business, business-to-consumer or peer-to-peer, especially when it comes to marketing. Marketers need to continue to evolve and be creative when sending messages to their recipients because email, as it it relates to privacy & security, will continue evolve and leave marketers who don’t keep pace behind. While Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection reduces open rate visibility it does provide its user base with more security and confidence in messages passed to their devices. That confidence can allow marketers to focus on developing richer content for a better user experience and drive conversions rather than just opens.
Developing and managing a list with proper confirmed opt-in methods are crucial to developing long-term email lists and the trust of your recipients. The implementation of Apple Mail Privacy Protection reinforces this principle.
Lastly, email privacy & security will continue to advance forward and marketers along with email service providers should not be trying to “get around” these privacy features, rather they need to understand that these features are intended to help the end user and your customers. Work within the ideology of providing the customers what they want to receive and nothing more or less, and you can help your emails thrive. Stay tuned for more updates as they become available.