Apple Email Privacy Protection: What It Means for the Future of Email 

On June 7th, 2021, Apple made an announcement that has made tidal waves within the email marketing space. Specifically, Apple shared its intention to increase the privacy protections within their iOS 15, allowing users to better control and manage their personal data. This change affects other updates such as iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8, and Apple mail app, too. 

The release is predicted around September 2021, which will be conveniently just in time for the holiday retail season that’s led to record-high email volumes being sent on retail favorites such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, Christmas, and the after-holiday sales that tend to continue into the new year. With that said, Apple’s changes are still in Beta right now, so the final outcome is yet to be revealed.  

Changes to expect in iOS 15 release

  • Recipients’ connection IPs will be masked
  • Email open activities will be masked
  • Tracking pixels (lovingly referred to by some as “spy pixels”) will be masked
  • Ability to differentiate between iPhone, iPad and Apple Mail users using iOS proxy will be prevented (however note that this is already the case at major mailbox providers including Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook). 

Who this impacts

Email marketers and any company using marketing automation or other features and tools that rely on open tracking, such as subject line testing, send time optimization, targeting recipients via geographical location(as tracked through their IP location), etc.

But don’t panic! The good news is that marketers have been tracking this stuff for a long time, so there is a LOT of historical data you can pull from to make informed decisions about what devices your recipients may be using.

The other thing that comes to mind almost immediately here is that we should treat a lack of open tracking data similar to how marketers adjusted to the regulations of GDPR. If you don’t know where your recipient is based (EU or other), you need to raise your privacy and data controls to meet GDPR standards across the board. I get that devices are not the same as privacy regulations, and there are reasons you want to know which device: so you can optimize your email development and strategies for the devices and destinations your audience prefers. But we’re talking about Apple here… which Litmus’ com shows as having 57% of the market share (including #1 on the list: Apple iPhone and #3: Apple Mail). So it’s safe to presume that most email marketers are sending to quite a lot of Apple devices, and will need to account for the variety of Apple devices in use today and plan their development accordingly… albeit a bit blindly. Would we love to have those actual figures if given the choice? Yes, of course! But we’ll carry on without them, and be just fine. I promise.

Email developers and senders who currently make use of knowing what type of Apple device is being used, and whether recipients are connecting via mobile or desktop. 

Email deliverability and compliance professionals who use email open activity to identify problematic senders hiding on their networks who may be causing deliverability issues for other customers, or who are reviewing email open rates at the destination level (i.e. Gmail vs Hotmail vs Yahoo, etc.) to proactively spot inbox placement issues.

Who this doesn’t impact (or more accurately, who it impacts less)

Transactional email senders, who only hit ‘Send’ based on a specific (recipient-driven) action. It’s business as usual for you since your decisions have never been made based on open activity.

Email marketers who are using a consumer data platform (CDP) or otherwise managing data such as website traffic, purchase and account creation history, etc, etc and who are lucky enough to be taking advantage of that information when making targeting decisions for email campaigns.

The good news is, even if you’re not using data from your CDP to drive targeting decisions, when it comes to hitting the inbox, SocketLabs customers are not greatly affected by this change. You’ll still have the ability to send your emails, track performance (including bounces, clicks, unsubscribes and complaints) from your dashboard, and be aware of your actual ability to hit the inbox through our proprietary StreamScore, which is powered by a multitude of data points. Sure, open rate is one of them… but excluding that information does not prevent us from effectively measure your ability to hit the inbox. 

How these changes are complicating email

  • Email marketers rely on open activity to dictate a variety of aspects of segmentation and personalization including who they should send to, what time of day and how often to contact recipients, what topics or types of email content they should receive, etc.
  • Marketing automation tools that give email marketers guidance on aspects such as subject line testing, inbox placement testing and send time optimization may find that their tools quickly become less accurate, if not entirely unusable. 
  • Deliverability, anti-abuse and compliance practitioners often rely on open activity as a signal to identify problematic senders who are sometimes able to hide on their networks or shared IP pools.  

What you can do about it

  1. Take a deep breath.

Email open rates have always been a flawed metric for a variety of reasons, including interactions with anti-spam filters, images being pre-loaded by certain mailbox providers to improve the user experience, open tracking pixels being clipped due to message length, and so much more. In reality, registering an email open is much more reliant upon the invisible pixel at the bottom of the email loading, rather than a human actually having taken the action to open an  

Also, the iOS 15 release isn’t happening until September 2021, so you have a few months to get your email-opening ducks in a row. Take full advantage of the additional insight you have into email open activity right now, to better understand your audience – from an aggregate level as well as at the recipient level.  

    • What are the patterns? 
    • What are the data points you rely on most heavily when it comes to open activity? 
    • And what insights are you able to identify about your audience that you can use down the road to make decisions about things like ideal send time, general location within the world, etc.
    • Are there certain pieces of information you might want to consider asking your email audience about (such as ideal send time or frequency, non-specific geolocation, etc.) through progressive profiling or as part of a user-account creation process that you highlight will “improve the personalization you’re able to provide”? Think creatively about what takeaways you can glean from your existing data, before it goes away. 

And who knows, depending on how this change is implemented, we may discover some new insights and angles to factor into our email marketing decisions. For example, if messages landing in the spam folder are not pre-loaded, we could potentially know whether an email went to the inbox or not – something that’s been historically hard to identify. 

  1. Consider the bigger picture

Truly optimized email performance has always required marketers to monitor multiple data points. While opens tend to get the most attention, email marketers should be monitoring their bounces, clicks, unsubscribes and spam complaints just as closely as their opens. Thankfully, we make that easy at SocketLabs by showcasing these metrics front and center within your dashboard.  

We even have our own email health quality score called StreamScore, providing direct insight into your likelihood of hitting the inbox, plus actionable advice on how to improve your score. Opens are just one of the 10’s of data points we use to determine your score. In fact, we’ve tested our scoring with and without this metric, with little difference in the accuracy of the scoring. So rest assured, you will survive this change. 

  1. Embrace consumer privacy.

Giving citizens greater control over the information that marketers can know about them is a good thing. And truthfully, this day has been coming for a long time. GDPR was introduced within Europe more than two years ago, and other forms of legislation around the globe are moving in this direction.  

So instead of losing your mind or trying to find technical or legal loopholes to bring back that ever-elusive open data, accept the fact that times are changing. Explore other ways of getting the information you think you need to provide a quality experience to your email recipients, or realize that *gasp* you don’t actually need open data to be good at email.  

  1. Prepare for (more) new innovations within email

Email is a data-rich marketing channel, and it’s constantly evolving. This has been true since the beginning. While this change feels massive due to our industry’s over-reliance on open rates, it is bound to create a whole new wave of innovation focused around better use of the remaining email data points.  

In fact, we’re already working on something big in our Innovation Lab – in addition to our newly improved StreamScore, which has been part of the SocketLabs DNA for years.  

We’re excited to share what we’ve been working on, so stay tuned. Or, contact us to find out how you can be a part of the next generation of email.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns about how this change will impact you specifically, please contact us! We’d be happy to chat with you during a free 30-minute email deliverability and strategy conversation.