Duck With Apple: Email Tracking Blockers Have A Central Flaw

Apple, which is already scaring email marketers with its iOS 15 release, has been joined by another player in the anti-email-tracking game: DuckDuckGo.

The privacy-oriented search engine has launched Email Protection, a service designed to “thwart email trackers.” 

This free email forwarding tool “removes email trackers and protects the privacy of your personal email address without asking you to change email services or apps,” the company states on its site. 

Don’t panic yet. The tool is in beta, and consumers are invited to “Join the private waitlist!” 

But it’s coming. And DuckDuckGo, recently fattened by a $100 million funding round, is doing what it can to drive sign-ups (and possibly upgrades to its paid services). 

“You may be surprised to learn that 70% of emails contain trackers that can detect when you’ve opened a message, where you were when you opened it, and what device you were using,” the company states. “If that isn’t creepy enough, this email data can be used to profile you, including to target you with ads, and influence the content you see online.”



Well, we hate to tell you this, but profiling will go on, one way or the other, despite these services. 

Indeed, a report out today, by Fast Company, argues that “all of these tools share one major flaw: They can’t stop senders from tracking the links you click on.” 

Fast Company says: “Even with DuckDuckGo’s Email Protection enabled, senders can see exactly which links you’ve clicked, how many times you’ve clicked them, and your location while clicking. The same is true with anti-tracking tools from Apple, Hey, and most others. 

DuckDuckGo plans to improve its link-tracking protection. But Fast Company argues that “without disclosing the limits of their current tools, these companies may be instilling a false sense of security by promising a more private inbox.”

What’s more, Apple has rejected a Mac version of the Hey Email app in its App Store because it “doesn’t work,” according to TechCrunch.  

In any case, link-tracking is “far less egregious as the user is choosing to click on the link,” Simply Gmail creator Michael Leggett tells Fast Company 

Reports like these will not buy the email business much time. Instead, brands and their vendors must do what they can using first-party data, garnered through email engagement and permissions. 

Suppliers are already stepping up to help. For instance, ShopFluency says it says it can help companies avoid the third-party tracking problem by providing a set of consumer profiles, and a list appended with profile data.

If a person buys a product and is being onboarded for the first time, that’s the time for responsible companies to explain their privacy protocols and ask for permission — to send them emails, track their email or anything else — and to clean up their email list management.  

“Suppose you have loose acquisition practices, an aggressive cadence, heavy-handed call-to-actions, and irrelevant content,” Alex Williams, senior vice president of innovation for Trendline, recently wrote. If you’re guilty on any of these counts, you will have trouble no matter what Apple and DuckDuckGo say. 



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