Apple mail and iOS 15: Apple makes privacy a priority

Apple mail and iOS 15: Apple makes privacy a priority
By Akilah Winbush and Sean Shi
Oct 12, 2021

Digital marketing is an exercise in precision, but new privacy controls have companies on edge about reaching customers. Earlier this year, restrictions on cookies kicked into effect. And now, with the September 21 release of the Apple iOS 15 update, Apple continues its focus on privacy with the inclusion of “Mail Privacy Protection” on its native mail app. Brands fear that this update will have a big effect on tracking open-rate metrics via the app, as 46% of opens in 2020 were from Apple Mail users, according to Litmus.

What’s changing?

After upgrading to iOS 15, when iOS users boot up the Apple Mail app, they will receive a message prompting them to choose either “Protect Mail Activity” or “Don’t Protect Mail Activity.” If a user selects the “Protect Mail” option, Apple Mail will list the user’s email open rate as 100% and mask their IP address, making it impossible to determine the user’s location.

When will it happen?

Apple released iOS 15 on September 20, 2021 and takes effect as users update their devices.

Why launch Mail Privacy Protection?

According to Apple, “Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. [It prevents] 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.” Some argue that this move extends Apple’s commitment to privacy, while others say that it’s one more way for Apple to monopolize valuable data. Either way, how will it impact brands?

Anticipated effects

With Apple’s new iOS update, it will be impossible for senders to tell when a given email arrived in a recipient’s inbox and whether or not they opened it. That is crucial because, often, emails contain invisible pixels designed to collect the personal data of whoever opens them. By preemptively triggering those invisible pixels before the email ever arrives in the user’s inbox, Apple eliminates the sender's ability to collect data. Assuming enough users update to iOS 15, email marketers won’t be able to determine who opened a specific email.

Marketers will be in the dark regarding when, or even where, a given email was opened (provided the recipient was using Apple Mail), which makes reporting open rates or remarketing based on opens impossible for Apple Mail users. Several marketing tactics will be affected, including:

  • Nurturing the customer journey based on email opens
  • Testing headlines based on email open rates
  • Cleaning dormant emails and optimizing lists
  • Gaining insights on audience segments based on open rates
  • Optimizing send times

For now, this change only affects emails opened in the Apple Mail app. If an iOS user accesses other email providers, like Gmail, through Apple Mail, the new privacy options still apply. The update does not impact someone using the Gmail app on their iOS device. But, as other companies adopt similar controls, it’s likely a matter of time until restrictions extend to Google products and beyond.

The true impact of the enhanced privacy features included in this update, including “Hide My Email,” “Private Relay,” and others, as well the impending horizon-line for the cookie, is unknown.  But it’s not all doom and gloom. Brand marketers that act now to tap into and optimize their first-party and zero-party data can mitigate some of those effects and reap additional benefits.

Customer-centric marketing strategies—underpinned with rich, contextualized data garnered directly from the customer or captured from their interactions with your brand—lead to initiatives that are more authentic, reciprocal, and truly hyper-personalized.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the authors
  1. Akilah Winbush, Manager, Digital Media
  2. Sean Shi, Digital Media Buyer
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