The Poison Apple: Will New Privacy Policy Kill Email Marketing?

Marketers in general are reeling from Apple’s new digital privacy protections.  Is Apple about to destroy email marketing as we know it?   

Not necessarily, experts say. But it will change the way commercial email senders operate. 

Apple says its new Mail Privacy Protection “stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.” 

At the least, this will “continue to erode the value of open rates for marketers,” writes Brad Gurley, director of deliverability for MessageGears, in a blog post. But he adds that open rates are not the only metric emailers should consider. 



This new policy makes it “more important than ever to take a more holistic view of your campaign performance. Clicks, conversions, site visits, landing page views, purchases, and other recipient-level metrics can still provide a picture of engagement to facilitate segmentation, targeting, and list management,” Gurley says.

Treadline's senior vice president of innovation Alex Williams agrees. 

“Fundamentally, clicks & conversions are a much higher quality signal of intent anyway, along with activity in other channels such as your app/website as well as offline behavior. (A CDP will help tremendously in this area.),” Williams writes in a post. 

Carolyn Nye, director of Acxiom’s Digital Interactive Group, notes that “iOS 15’s Mail Privacy Protection is not enabled by default. Users have to opt-in,” in a post for Practical Ecommerce.  

But that’s one opt-in you can expect people to utilize. Worse, Nye notes that emails in 2021 “are mostly opened on smartphones. iOS is a big share of that market. If Android adopts similar privacy options, 98% of smartphone users will have the option of not disclosing their email opens.

Williams contends that “once a user enables Mail Privacy Protection (and we expect close to 100% adoption), Apple will effectively download all images in every email pretty close to when it hits their servers. 

This will make the ‘open rate’ and the ‘time of open’ useless, as every message sent to an Apple user will show as opened when they downloaded the images. Additionally, the actual IP, device, & location will not be passed back to the sender.

Mail Privacy Protection is not the only new protection. 

Another, Hide My Email, lets users “share unique, random email addresses that forward to their personal inbox anytime they wish to keep their personal email address private.” 

Apple continues, “Built directly into Safari, iCloud settings, and Mail, Hide My Email also enables users to create and delete as many addresses as needed at any time, helping give users control of who is able to contact them.”

Williams suggests that now is the time to “reconsider your attribution model to show the true impact of email on your organization. If you have the ability to export all of your legacy data out of your ESP, start those discussions now.

Will marketers still be able to test email subject lines?

“While it is still early, some folks have been discussing moving to test subject lines to a non-Appleaudience,” Williams writes. “I don’t see a future for that, as I believe Google and the other email services will probably buddy up on Apple’s approach pretty soon.” 

Gurley adds that the “complete removal of a sender’s ability to track opens has the potential to be very disruptive for the email industry — but we’re convinced that’s not going to happen just yet. Details on the technical methodology of MPP are scant, although some evidence suggests Apple will ‘pre-fetch’ images via proxy servers, similar to practices already in place at Gmail and Yahoo.” 

In an email, Gurley notes that, lacking further details, "any current declaration on the impact to marketers involves quite a bit of speculation. Regardless of impact, the time has come for the industry to find new and innovative ways to measure recipient engagement, and we are working within various industry groups to help define what the next generation of engagement tracking will look like". 

Then there's this: 

“Suppose you have loose acquisition practices, an aggressive cadence, heavy-handed call-to-actions, and irrelevant content,” Williams posits. “In that case, the lack of open rates will not be the reason you run into deliverability problems.”

It’s all about the customer journey. You can also utilize tools like AMP for Email and BIMI to streamline ordering and build trust.  

Don’t panic. We’re not going back to the mid-19th Century when direct mailers, most of whom then were crooks, referred to their customers simply as “the fools.”



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