Apple expects the new mail privacy protection features to launch between September and November 2021.
The goal of this update is to prevent senders from collecting information about the user. It stops information gathering (like knowing when an email gets opened) while masking their IP address.
That means someone’s email usage becomes unlinked from their other online activities. It also prevents senders from determining their location.
How Mail Privacy Protection from Apple Works
The new features offered by Apple for email privacy with iOS 15 are an opt-in system. When individuals first open their email through an affected operating system or app, it will prompt them to protect their mail activity or leave it unprotected.
People must actively choose to have their email protected with these privacy features. Although it isn’t known how many will choose this service, similar transparency efforts have shown that 95% or more will use the new service.
When an individual chooses to protect their mail activity, several events take place to prevent user tracking.
- When the app starts, Apple Mail triggers an email download to the device from the sender’s ESP (email service provider) or the web host.
- At that time, Apple caches the images included in the message, creating a copy of them that gets saved at a new location through its Privacy Cache. An IP address assignment reflects the subscriber’s general region instead of offering a particular geo-location.
- Apple must request the images from the ESP server as part of the caching process. That includes the tracking data, making the provider believe that the user has opened their email.
- When the subscriber reviews their message, the request triggers a download of the images from Apple that display. It comes from the Cache instead of the ESP server or the web host, preventing senders from knowing user behavior.
Subscribers will need to have an active connection to a wireless network with the app running in the background to take advantage of these features.
The privacy features apply to all email services. It could be a work account, Gmail, or Outlook, but it only works when routed through the Apple Mail app.
What Does the Privacy Feature Mean for Email Marketing?
The movement to allow users to control their data has been slowly building over the past few years.
It starts with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. This law gives people the right to remove personal data, making it anonymous information from a marketing stance.
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) delivers another set of privacy protections that marketers must balance.
There is even the discussion of having third-party cookies removed from the browsing experience. That means it was only a matter of time before email privacy became part of that equation.
That means the open rate will not be a helpful metric to evaluate a campaign’s effectiveness once the privacy features go live. Since Apple will essentially “open” the message first, anyone with an audience that skews towards iOS 15 products or macOS Monterey will see inflated percentages.
In 2021, Apple iPhone was the top email client people used, with over 38% stating it was their primary service. Apple Mail contributes another 9.9%, with Apple iPad adding another 1.2%.
That means over half of the average audience is using Apple and could end up opting in for the new privacy features.
The Privacy Feature Could Impact Email Relevance
Since senders are using the information about open rates to determine when people view emails, the concern is that the messaging will become less relevant.
That means you might not get messages when you typically eat dinner about the latest specials at a local pizzeria. It could also affect subject line testing, A/B evaluation, and retargeting after someone opens a message without clicking through for conversions.
Although the changes sound negative, there is a potential bright spot. When marketers send email blasts that don’t get a lot of opens, it hurts deliverability. With Apple essentially opening the message to take a snapshot of it, there could be fewer items snagged by the spam filter.
The businesses most affected by this change are those that monetize audiences based on email content. Marketing techniques will evolve once the privacy features get released, but until then, everyone needs to be prepared for potential disruptions.
How will Mailster handle the changes?
We are watching the changes on iOS 15 and check how others handle opens via the private relay. Since other services may also adopt you should count opens as less relevant and may change your automations based on this knowledge.
We’ll push updates on our plugin once the changes go live later this month.