What Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Means for the Modern Marketer

Anshul Sharma
Email Marketing

Apple recently announced the newest version of its upcoming major mobile software update, iOS 15, for a fall release. With it comes new features around privacy and security, and the one that has been inciting concern among email marketers is the Mail Privacy Protection function. It’s important to understand how Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) works, the potential impacts for marketing metrics, and what to do now to prepare.

Mail Privacy Protection blog image

How Does the iOS 15 Mail Privacy Protection Feature Actually Work?

Mail Privacy Protection is a function that anyone who updates to iOS 15 can opt-in to use within the stock Apple Mail application found on iPhones and iPads. By opting in, users will be choosing to hide their IP address and privately load all remote content of any email they receive through the app.

This is a crucial point for marketing professionals, because most senders will capture open data by use of an open pixel contained within the content of the message being delivered. By Apple privately loading all content through this update, marketers will not be able to accurately determine which recipients are actually opening a message in their Apple inbox. Instead, every message that delivers to Apple mail will appear as an open, even if the recipient does not actually do so.

Are iOS 15 Privacy Updates Affecting Everyone?

While it is still early, what we know so far is that this feature is only available on iOS 15. For anyone who does not update their iPhone to iOS 15, open data will still be available as normal. Additionally, this is only applicable to iPhone and iPad Apple devices AND only applicable to the stock Apple Mail application. Any recipient who engages with email on an Android device, or a desktop, or a browser, or through any other email client application will report accurate open data as we are accustomed to seeing. On a technical level, it goes a little deeper than this, because many people who use non-Apple clients (like Gmail) on Apple devices still set up Apple Mail as part of their default before linking other accounts.

Therefore, even if a user is opening their messages in Gmail (or another app), opens will still be pre-fetched, and thus inaccurate. However, if a recipient has integrated their non-apple mailbox (i.e. gmail.com, outlook.com, hotmail.com, or yahoo.com addresses) within Apple Mail on iOS 15, then we expect to see inaccurate open reporting. Depending on how your leads and customers configure and access their email accounts, you will have varying degrees of reporting inaccuracies.

How Does Email Privacy Impact the Average Marketing Team?

While this update has not rolled out to the general public, we were able to conduct significant tests of the beta to get insights for our own teams and customers. According to our testing, the impact of privacy protection for Apple Mail will vary by marketer, but it may be significant. Most studies estimate 35-47% of email users prefer Apple Mail as their main client, and while Privacy Protection is an opt-in feature, we do expect the vast majority of users to turn it on.

This means for most senders that track open rates, a large portion of their audience will inaccurately indicate higher opens than reality suggests. In addition, common marketing mechanisms like A/B subject line testing and user segmentation based on behavior or physical location will be useless for a portion of the audience.

Clearly, losing accurate email open data could be a big change for marketers, requiring evolution and innovation in email campaign strategies. To overcome potential problems, it might be worth considering a shift in attention to other key metrics such as clicks, website behavior, form fills, and conversions. Looking at what people do with your email after opening can be of even more importance than simple open metrics, and it can be a better way to identify engaged segments, and personalize your marketing to reach your best prospects with the information and content that gets them to engage.

Tips on Preparing for Increased Email Privacy

  • Follow email deliverability best practices from the beginning, as it may be more challenging to remedy engagement issues at least in the beginning. This means implementing practices such as including a transparent and informed opt-in process like double opt-ins, as well as carrying out periodic reconfirmation campaigns.
  • Estimate the potential impact on your programs and your readers by analyzing existing device and email client data.
  • In addition, include a welcome email or series, which can help set the proper expectations on message type and frequency with users, and has also proven to yield better user engagement.
  • Establish baselines now, and work to figure out reporting options such as toggling between results from Apple Mail and non-Apple Mail users.
  • Test creative content using A/B testing to understand what’s most compelling to your recipients. Then, do more of that. 
  • Create audience segments based on variables outside of open rates including: click rate, form fills, landing page visits, blog/newsletter views, and date of opt-in.

Privacy Protection Can Be a Good Thing for Marketers

While the real world effects of increased privacy protection like ad blockers and email privacy protection are hard to gauge until they are fully implemented, marketers can choose to react in ways that help their companies continue to grow. When it comes to Apple’s MPP, marketing teams will need to emphasize different email metrics, configure reporting appropriately, and perhaps most importantly, continue iterating and improving the content and offerings we share via email. The key to remember is that these updates to Apple Mail affect the ability to measure performance, not performance itself. As with many advances, it can feel hard to make shifts, but the end result is often better than we ever imagined.