Apple's Mail Privacy Protection: Everything A Marketer Needs to Know
Apple’s Mail Privacy protection was rolled out in 2021. And since its launch (within 2 years), it has changed the face of email marketing. Nowadays, every marketer needs to learn about it.
With Apple’s Privacy Protection, email recipients have more control over their data being shared with the email senders, namely email open rates.
This, however, is not the end of email marketing or cold emailing, email senders (businesses) will have less data access for recipient behavior. As Apple Mail holds more than 48% of total email clients, email marketers who used to rely heavily on email open rates and related stats, will need to rethink their email marketing strategies.
In this blog post, you will find out everything you need to know about Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, why it is important, and how to strategize accordingly.
What is Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection?
Apple’s Mail Privacy protection, also known as MPP, is a feature in Apple’s mailing service that allows an email user (Apple Mail app or desktop email app) to withhold information about how, when, and where they open an email.
The Mail Privacy Protection feature hides an email user's IP address, so that the senders can’t see if and when the recipient has opened their emails. Moreover, this feature restricts senders to track a recipient's geolocation.
With Apple Mail Privacy Protection is activated, a sender is prevented from tracking recipient tracking data, including:
- Email opens
- Email forwards
- IP address
- Device used
- Time stamp
- Browser used
How does Mail Privacy Protection Work?
Let’s look at the MPP from two different angles – what email users see and what it means from a sender's POV.
As of Sept 20, 2020, Apple has made MPP available for iPadOS 15 and Mail on iOS 15. Nowadays, it's available on iOS 16, watchOS 8, and Macbooks (with macOS Monterey) as well.
MPP, as shown in the above picture, is a simple opt-in option that existing Apple mail users can choose. People with multiple Apple devices can choose their preferred option in the beginning and the data syncs for all the devices through Apple ID.
As the Apple Mail experience (user experience) doesn’t change, many Apple Mail users might not understand its importance. However, it gives the email recipients (average email users) more control over their email data.
Coming to the email senders’ perspective, the introduction of Apple’s MPP for privacy control changes email marketers dependance on tools for campaign tracking. When the ‘Protect Mail Activity’ is selected, Apple doesn’t send the email directly to the prospects’ inboxes to help protect users’ privacy of online activity.
Instead, Apple routes the emails to a proxy server to preload the message. In this process, the server downloads the images in the emails and that affects the sender’s email tracking abilities.
At this point, you might be thinking why is that? Well, let’s move on to the next part to understand how email tracking actually works.
How Email Open Tracking Works?
Email marketers use various email tracking KPIs to measure their campaigns’ success. They do it by inserting tracking images into the HTML emails. No, this image is not visible to recipients as it is a single pixel.
So, the image is invisible to the recipients, but when they open the email and the image gets loaded, it collects and shares information with the sender. How does it work?
Well, these images have specific URLs containing a code that indicates the tracking tool that the emails have been opened.
The fundamental of this method is very simple; only the images in opened emails will get downloaded, and only those will trigger the tracking process. In easy words, the number of downloads for the tracking image is the number of emails opened and the number of times they read it.
Now that we have a fair idea of how email tracking pixels work, let’s get back to how Apple’s MPP deems email open rate tracking useless:
When an email marketer sends a promotional email to Mail users, Apple saves the entire email on its proxy server. In this process, the server downloads all the images, including the tracking pixels.
This way, ESPs (email service providers) consider the emails to be opened, even if the actual recipients may not have opened it. When a recipient wants to open the email, Apple Mail downloads the email from its proxy server. As the email is not downloaded from the sender’s server or web-hosting, it hides the recipient's activity from the email sender. So, in that case, ESP will consider 100% of emails to be opened, giving a faulty tracking result to the sender.
When Did Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Come in Effect?
Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection came in effect after major OS releases in Q3, 2021, including iOS 15, watchOS 8, macOS Monterey, and iPadOS 15. Now in 2023, all the Apple OS offers Mail Privacy protection, including Macbooks.
So, any email user using Apple's Operating Systems can hide their email activity with the MPP turned on. Earlier, this feature was only available in iPhones and iPads, but nowadays, you can use this feature in Mac and even on Apple Watch.
Why Should Email Marketers Care about Mail Privacy Protection?
Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection has changed the way email marketers used to track their campaigns’ progress. As we have discussed before, MPP has made email open rates irrelevant with some other concerns, such as:
- Geolocation data will be hidden or inaccurate
- Email campaigns relying solely on email open rates will not work
1. Inflated Email Open Rates for Apple Mail Users
With 59.61% active email users, Apple Mail tops the list as the most used email client worldwide. So, you can safely assume that almost half of your email recipients use Apple Mail, and that’s what is concerning.
MPP makes it almost impossible to generate accurate data on email opens from Apple Mail users. As we have discussed before, Apple preloads every email in their own proxy server, so there’s a high chance that you will see 100% email open rates for Apple Mail users.
Keep in mind that different ESPs such as Gmail, Hotmail Yahoo, or professional email addresses also work with Apple Mail. So there’s a high chance that It will show you inflated email open rates that can deceive your tracking process.
With declining reliability of email open rates, it's inevitable that click-to-opens will also show tampered metrics. For example, false opens (emails that are not opened by the recipient but still show as opened, thanks to Apple’s proxy servers) can drastically reduce the number of click-to-opens as the email open rates are inflated.
2. No Geolocation and Email Open Time Tracking
Geolocation of prospects and their email open time tracking are crucial aspects for email list segmentation. Needless to say, both of these factors get affected by Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature.
When you turn on MPP, it sends emails through various servers to protect the receiver’s privacy – IP address, which diminishes location tracking. Email marketers will get an IP address, but that will be the IP address for Apple server.
For example, if you are sending emails specifically designed for geolocation-based email content, such as showing nearby restaurants, you simply can’t rely on it anymore.
Although we are talking fundamentally about Apple Mail Privacy Protection, other popular email service providers such as Yahoo and Gmail also cache images, which limits tracking visibility for senders.
Besides geolocation tracking, Apple’s proxy server loads and opens the email messages, making it impossible for email marketers to track email open time. This affects the assessment of the right time and date to send emails.
3. Email Campaigns Based on Email Opens Might Break
Many businesses (especially D2C) solely rely on email open rates for their promotional campaigns. Now that the MPP is rolled out, these campaigns will be less reliable and might even send irrelevant messages.
For example, if you have set custom conditional email sending triggers (let’s say you have set a follow-up email on Tuesday or after two days of sending), there’s a high chance that Apple Mail users won’t receive the email at all.
It’s because the MPP’s preloading the tracking pixel will make it look like the emails have already been opened. Ironically, these emails might still be in their inbox unread.
Moreover, if you are A/B testing your emails solely based on the email open rates, it might not show you the accurate assumption, as you don’t truly know how many people will open your email.
Despite Mail Privacy Protection, What Should Email Marketers Do?
It’s safe to say that email open rate is dead. Even though the MPP is already in action, you can survive the gap and succeed in your email marketing campaigns. You can:
- Create a list of email audiences using non-Apple Mail clients
- Use different engagement metrics (KPIs) to measure your campaign’s success. E.g., subject lines, deliverability rates, etc.
- Take a close look at open rate reliance metrics and customize your emails
- Run A/B tests to find out which email variation works the best
- Clean your email list regularly and weed out unengaged subscribers
- Try deliverability rates monitoring instead of email open rate tracking
- Update your email preference center
- Localize content and send only personalized emails
Sattwik is a Digital Marketing professional at SmartLead. He is a dedicated content writer who focuses on juggling words to bring out meaningful content. He is experienced in well-researched and SEO-optimized content creation, content editing, and copywriting for various businesses throughout the globe. His expertise in SEO, SMM, and SMO with a touch of creativity helps businesses grow and maximize their credibility and sales.