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Apple's Mail Privacy Protection: what is it and how affects your email marketing

Category: Email Marketing

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Privacy is a growing concern for users, and developers are looking for ways to address it. Apple's new privacy feature for email is called Mail Privacy Protection and it will have a big impact on tracking because it will prevent senders from knowing when a message has been opened.

Before we go through all the implications of this, go to your stats and check the opens by device: how many open from Apple Mail? That's what this post is about, at least in the first instance. Note that Mail Privacy Protection is specific to their mail manager, so it can affect Gmail accounts or any other accounts opened in it, but not the Gmail app even if it's being used on an iPhone.

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Let's take a look at some details to understand its scope.

 

How does Mail Privacy Protection work?

This feature was announced last week at Apple's annual developer conference (WWDC 2021). It is still in development, but it looks like it will be enabled by default in iOS 15, which is expected to be released in autumn of this year. There are still many unknowns to be discovered from a technical perspective, but the data that is known has set off alarm bells in the email marketing sector.

The reason is that Mail Privacy Protection will mask the recipient's IP and prevent senders from using invisible tracking pixels to collect information.

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Apple aims to prevent online activity from being associated and users' location from being determined with the tracking pixels that are commonly used in email campaigns. How it will do this is not yet entirely clear, although it is clear that users will be prompted when they install the app whether or not to activate it, so a small percentage of them may choose to continue to show their activity.

From the subscriber's perspective, Apple's protection in their email manager will undoubtedly help protect their privacy, but it may come at the cost of a worse experience in the newsletters they receive if, for example, they are sent campaigns based on their activity.

On the other hand, blocking opens will make it more difficult to track subscriber engagement and maintain inactive users. This can mean more unwanted mailings to subscribers which is counterproductive and makes it more difficult for senders to clean, segment and manage lists. 

 

Is the open rate dead?

At the moment it is all speculation, it is not yet clear how Apple will deal with tracking pixels, nor how it will prevent them from being used.

Most likely Apple will first route the email on its servers to load the tracking pixel before delivering the email to the recipient. Will Apple download all the images in the email including the tracking pixel? How they will differentiate a "normal" image from a tracking pixel?

There are still too many unknowns to be able to conclude how Apple will act with its new Mail Privacy Protection and to be able to measure the impact this will have on open rates.

 

What can you do to be less affected?

While we emphasise that this only affects Apple Mail users, the open rate metric can become distorted and unreliable. This data is used in many ways in email marketing, such as to segment mailings with the parameter of who "has not opened" and reactivate subscribers with reengagement campaigns or in A/B testing, automation and personalisation in real time based on who "has opened". In addition, in newsletter advertising, is a criterion for deciding the price of advertisements.

The open rate indirectly measures the effectiveness of the subject line and the user's trust in the sender, so it is still a metric to look at when evaluating email marketing. It should not be discarded yet, but alternative approaches can be sought to complement it.

There are still a few months to go before the official launch and changes may be made, but you can start preparing yourself by doing a few checks. The first is to frequently review your statistics to assess Apple Mail user activity while it's still possible, for example by creating new segments based on their interests or data that you can continue to use in the future.

Make sure you keep a clean list of inactive users who may later be disguised because they will "suddenly" open everything when potentially that is false. So, in general, and not only for Apple Mail users, consider starting to use more criteria to choose the best content for your audience, not only the open rate or CTOR, for example, the delivery rate or clicks in certain areas of your newsletter.

Acrelia will analyse the iOS 15 beta to assess the situation and implement the necessary measures to continue offering our customers the most complete email marketing statistics on the market.


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