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The Impact of Apple’s New Privacy Policy

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Written by: Sue Murray

woman looking at her phone at work

Apple’s announcement of its new Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) for the popular Apple Mail app appeased users by giving them more control over their personal data, including options to limit email tracking. However, the latter caused a flutter among the email marketing community as it will prevent senders from knowing who opens their emails.

The reason for email marketers’ concern is that Apple Mail is one of the most popular email clients in use today, mainly because it’s the default email application on all Apple devices. Although users will have to turn on the setting manually, most will likely choose to hide their activity from third parties.

As part of Apple’s privacy updates for iOS 15, MPP will be available for the Mail app on iPhones, iPads, Mac computers, and Apple watches. The feature, active since September, gives users the option of masking their IP addresses if and when they open their marketing emails.

Masking is made possible by routing an IP address through various proxy servers to generate a different IP address. This prevents email marketers and other senders from using invisible pixels to collect information from recipients.

How Will MPP Impact Email Marketing?

Previously, data from an email was loaded only once the recipient opened the email and downloaded its image, which happened automatically in most cases. This data included a pixel, which allowed the email sender to detect that the email was opened, what device was used, and where the recipient was located when they opened the email.

As a result, open rates have been the standard go-to metric for many email marketers. It guided them on content optimization, design, subject lines, and email send times. However, with Mail Privacy Protection, Apple Mail preloads images and content of emails you send, including the tracking pixel, which means they will be displayed as opened, whether the recipient has read it or not. This results in an inflated open rate, making the data quality from these pixels no longer a reliable performance metric.

Are Email Open Rates a Value or a Vanity Measure?

The need for marketers to monitor key performance indicators to understand better the success of an email is now more critical than ever. While open rates will most likely become less reliable, they still have much value to add. They indicate engagement levels, which helps us understand the levels of deliverability from an ISP and what types of emails we should send. However, the reverse also holds – just because the receiver opened the email doesn’t mean they took much notice of it, making it a vanity measure.

Overall, open rates still offer considerable value. With A/B tests, it’s still one of the best ways to judge the effectiveness of subject lines and whether your key message is compelling enough for your target audience. Open rates also help to inform Send Time Optimization algorithms and give benchmarks across sectors.

On the flip side, an intriguing subject line may lead to more open rates but may not deliver against expectations. A supposedly “weaker” subject line on open rates may still drive a better response and conversion, with the latter being what really matters.

The impending Apple privacy changes will undoubtedly impact the accuracy of open rate measures, and markets need to get ready for its impact.

How Should Marketers Prepare for this Change?

Since privacy has become a big issue recently, many marketers have started to look beyond open rates to measure the performance of their email campaigns. Therefore, deeper activity-based metrics further down the funnel, like clicks and conversions, will most likely become more prominent.

While it’s still unclear how many users will opt-in to the MPP feature, it’s safe to assume that the adoption rate of iOS 15 will be high if it follows a similar trajectory to iOS 14, a very likely scenario. Hence, it would be prudent for email marketers to rely less on email open data, as people usually opt out of data tracking if they have the option.

Customers expect smooth interactions from the brands they trust, so flooding them with emails to ensure they read it won’t be a feasible approach. Instead, marketers need to become more innovative in their communications approach, especially since protections like MPP will become prevalent.

MPP will have the most significant impact on emails sent out to alert an audience to scams. The emails have nothing to click through to – marketers will only get a delivery notification, which is of little use. As a result, businesses could start introducing more feedback loops into service-type messages to determine whether they’re taken note of. These loops could be in the form of an “understanding” button or return paths to mini-surveys.

Although new privacy policies such as MPP affect the depth of data available to email marketers, data will remain a vital part of measurement to create a better customer experience. Uncovering trends through the three main metrics of open rates, click rates, and conversions will still inform decision-making. But ultimately, engaging your audience with conversion-worthy content is what will drive them to take the action you want them to.

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