Apple has announced that it will continue its pursuit of user privacy and now has email in its sights.
At the company’s recent developer get-together, Apple announced that the next update (Apple’s iOS 15) would include Mail Privacy Protection which will effectively block open email tracking.
Currently, all emails opened on Apple iPhones and tablets are routed through Apple Mail. This is often even the case if you are using Gmail. Furthermore, around half of email opens on Apple’s desktop devices go via Apple Mail.
This is critical news for email marketers – especially as other tech players are expected to follow. Google, for example, has confirmed that they are looking at similar changes.
So, if you have an email list, what action should you take now?
While we don’t want you to panic, the window for taking action is limited, so it’s time to plan your response.
What is open tracking?
Email marketing services like MailerLite or ConvertKit provide marketers with data to know how email campaigns and lists are working. The open rate is the most important metric, followed by the click rate.
This data is essential for myriad reasons, including:
- Are readers opening your messages?
- Are they clicking links?
- Is a new sequence keeping readers engaged?
- Are your emails dropping into spam or promotions?
- How is a new batch of subscribers performing?
Open tracking allows you to know this information. Your email marketing service inserts a small image the size of a pixel into each email. When that pixel “fires” (loaded on the recipient’s device), an open is registered on your dashboard.
From September, Apple will begin to block this process. They explain:
“In the Mail app, 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.”
Although Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is not an automatic default, users will be prompted to adopt it (just like the app tracking prompts iPhone users are receiving now). It is predicted that around 80 per cent will follow Apple’s prompts.
And remember, most users are using the Apple Mail app even if they don’t realize it. Whenever you hook up the generic envelope pre-loaded on the home screen of Apple devices to something like Gmail, email messages are being routed via the Apple Mail app. As such, Apple will block your email open tracking from anyone who updates to iOS 15 and follows the prompts.
And there is one more concerning aspect. Apple will report an open on every email that passes through Apple Mail in iOS 15. So you might think your open rates and list performance is peaking when the opposite could be true.
Note: click tracking works differently, and this looks unaffected at the moment
So, what does this mean for email marketers?
It is going to make your data a big mess. And not just those using Apple devices.
Unlike the recent changes to iOS14.5, which limited Facebook’s ability to collect data on users of Apple devices, this change is a bigger deal.
While there was plenty of press and media attention, it only impacted heavy or advanced users of the Facebook Pixel or the Audience Network. Indeed, unless you had a disproportionate amount of Apple device users, you might not have even noticed a change.
Of course, not everyone has upgraded to iOS 14.5, but these numbers will rise over the coming weeks. And it is something to consider when iOS 15 is launched later this year. You might not see a considerable impact initially, but over time you definitely will.
How will email service providers react?
As yet, the response of email providers is unknown. However, some suggest the open rates metric will have to be replaced with either predicted or estimated numbers using the remaining trackable users on your list and extrapolating from that to cover the gap created by Apple.
It is unlikely that they will invest in solving the problem until all tech players have announced their plans.
Goodbye to the golden age
The age of privacy is here, and many are looking back at the last two decades and the golden age of data.
Apple’s focus is now on privacy. Google is axing cookies in 2022, and regulators are encouraging all tech companies to do much more.
While this might be about consumer privacy, remember that Apple is still collecting plenty of data – it’s just not sharing it anymore. And they will monetize that data in different ways. Many in the marketing world see Apple and Google’s move more to do with building its garden walls higher and boosting their App Stores and ad platforms.
For example, Apple wants fewer people on the internet with more time spent inside apps (where it gets 30 per cent on all transactions). Companies will need to be discovered in the App Store on Apple’s ad platform. Yes, we are cynical here.
Is this the death of email marketing?
No. While it requires marketers to change their processes and raise their end game, the changes will not reduce the power of email marketing.
Yes, email open tracking is coming to an end, making it harder to measure performance. Eventually, it will become industry standard and not just on Apple devices. Email marketing services will come up with some solutions and fixes. However, the new privacy plans will heavily impact aggressive list-building strategies, and list culling will be more difficult.
So now is the time to improve your email skills, list-build as much as possible, and list-cull sooner rather than later before it becomes more difficult after this year. Take the time this summer to focus on email and email activities.
Remember, email marketing is still a powerful tool. It is just going to be harder to manage and monitor your performance going forward.
Source: David Gaughran