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Apple Mail Privacy Protection: What you need to know

Amy Elliott Amy Elliott
· 14 min read · Email marketing · September 16, 2021

Buckle up! Apple's new Mail Privacy Protection feature is coming soon and it'll forever change the way you approach and measure your email campaigns.

Over the past few years, you've quickly adapted to GDPR and other regulations such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). And despite initial concern, email continues to be one of the most effective marketing tools.

Your goal is still to give subscribers the best experience possible, and that extends to how you handle their data. Instead of seeing Apple’s new feature as a setback, it’s time to regroup, adjust your strategy, and find new ways to improve your email marketing efforts while respecting your subscribers’ data permissions.

In this article, we’ll give you a rundown of exactly what Apple's privacy feature entails and how you can prepare for the change.

New features

In response to Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, we’ve made updates to MailerLite. Skip to the new features to see what’s changed.

Following up on the well-received privacy features which limit in-app tracking, the tech giant unveiled their plans to target privacy surrounding email marketing next. 

The new feature will be released on September 20th and is set to limit email tracking with the native mail app. This means that Apple mail will mask IP addresses and inhibit senders (email marketers) from seeing whether or not recipients opened their emails.

It will work by pre-loading content—including tracking pixels—before someone even opens the email. To the sender, this will appear as if the email was opened, even if the subscriber never does. What’s more, because Apple will route the email through a proxy server, there will be no information about where or when the subscriber really opened the email.

By disabling the invisible pixels, Apple will also prevent the use of other email marketing features that are based on open-rate, such as A/B testing and segmentation (more on that further down).

What is Apple Mail?

Apple Mail (simply known as Mail on Apple devices) is Apple’s native email app for iOS, watchOS and macOS. 

apple mail ios icon

It’s pre-configured to work with a number of email providers such as Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, AOL and iCloud, which makes it a popular email client among Apple device users. In fact, Apple iPhone and Apple Mail take up a whopping 50.4% of the market share, landing at number 1 and 3 respectively, with Gmail in between at number 2 with 27.2%. 

“We respect what Apple is doing for privacy and support it. At the same time, we spend all our time and energy helping customers deliver valuable emails to their subscribers. We will continue to do that and adapt.”
- Nikola, CTO at MailerLite

The update will take effect for all Apple Mail users on iOS 15, macOS Monterey and iPadOS 15. If a subscriber uses Apple Mail, the feature will be available starting September 20th. 

The option won’t be enabled by default, but if the minuscule 4% opt-in to ad tracking is anything to go by, it seems likely that similar numbers will apply to the Mail Privacy Protection option. 

Here’s the language used by Apple in the opt-in screen for Mail Privacy Protection option.

apple's mail privacy protection opt-in screen for iPad

We’ve talked about the basic functionality of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature, now it’s time to take a look at the aspects of email marketing that will be affected.

1. Open-rate metrics

Open-rate metrics will no longer be reliable for email lists with subscribers using Apple Mail. They will likely increase as Apple Mail returns an open when it pre-loads email content. There are metrics you can still use, such as click-through rate (CTR) and others that will be mentioned below.

2. A/B testing

Running automated A/B tests for subject lines based on opens will not be accurate if you have subscribers using Apple Mail. The test might receive a large number of unconfirmed opens, which will skew the results. For more accurate testing, use click rate as your metric for success.

3. Segmentation and targeting using IP addresses

Segmentation and targeting that uses IP addresses, such as abandoned cart emails or emails targeted at specific locations, won’t work as well anymore. IP addresses of Apple mail users will be masked so they can’t be linked to their location or online activity. While targeting based on behavior will be more difficult, you can ask subscribers for data in signup forms and surveys that can be used for targeting.

4. Countdown timers

Countdown timers might not work properly anymore. Because email content is pre-loaded and cached, the countdown timer version that is served up to the subscriber might show the time remaining from when the email was originally downloaded onto the device. Not from when the person opened the email. In this case, it will be up to ESPs to find a workaround.

5. Automation triggers

Automations based on opens will need to be rethought and adjusted. Campaigns such as lead-nurturing, auto resend, re-engagement, and send time optimized will be affected as open-rates are no longer reliable. To combat this, marketers should change the way their campaigns behave, such as triggering emails with time-based rules or clicks instead of opens.

6. Subscriber list

Email open data will no longer serve as a way to gauge email list health and subscriber engagement. There’s no way to know if opens are genuine or not, so this can’t be used reliably to clean up lists. Luckily, emails will only be cached for accounts when the Apple Mail app is active, so it will at least give you a good indication of which accounts are valid.

Ernesta, our legal eagle, gives her take:

"I believe most individuals never realized that when they open a marketing email, they provide the sender with information about their IP address, location, device data, and opens. As surprising as it might be to some of us, not everyone reads the Privacy Policy, right? However, GDPR states that individuals should be allowed to choose what data they provide and to whom they provide it. 

"Apple Mail Privacy Protection is another step forward in educating individuals about the data they share when opening an email, as well as the fact they actually have a choice to opt out of this. Even though this applies only to Apple Mail right now, in the future other apps that are used to open and read emails might take similar approaches.

"Despite this change, email marketers are smart professionals that will be able to adapt and find great solutions for how to successfully continue running privacy-aware email marketing campaigns. As privacy-aware businesses are the future."

First piece of advice? Don’t worry, we are all in the same boat! This is an excellent opportunity to test, take stock of your current email marketing efforts, and work towards optimizing your campaigns and email list for a more effective approach moving forward. Here’s what you can start doing right now:

Evaluate and test to inform future campaigns

Get started on evaluating your old campaigns and metrics to see what worked and restructure your strategy. You can begin by looking at how many of your subscribers even use Apple mail—if the number is low, you might not have to change much at all.

How to find the top email clients in MailerLite

To check the stats for all subscribers, go to Subscribers then Stats and scroll down to the Top email clients section.

For individual campaigns, go to Campaigns then click View report under the campaign you would like to check. In the Stats overview, you’ll find Top email clients.

Then take a look at which campaigns rely on open data and think about how can you adjust them. If an email is triggered by an open, can the automation be adjusted to use clicks, conversions or time-based triggers instead?

Review your old campaigns and find out what subscribers engaged with most—you can use this data to inform future campaigns.

Clean up your email list 

If you’ve been putting this off for a while, there’s no better excuse to clean up your list. If you’re not getting opens from particular emails, it might be time to consider removing them or reach out to see if they still want to be a part of your email list. Use MailerLite’s clean-up tool to remove your inactive subscribers. 

Start measuring other metrics 

This could be great for your campaigns. After all, how many times have you opened an email only to close it immediately? CTR and conversion rate are much better indicators of engagement. By complementing your email marketing software with Google Analytics, you can set goals and measure performance at a deeper level. 

Other metrics that you should consider are:

  • Return On Investment (ROI) - Are you generating your target ROI or above? Or could it be better? Your emails might need some work to be optimized for conversions.

  • List growth compared with unsubscribe rate - Do you gain more subscribers than you lose? If so, it means you’re doing something right! If not, it might be time to re-evaluate your content. You can also carry out surveys to find out what subscribers want to see. 

  • Email forwards by subscribers - If subscribers regularly share your emails with their network, this is a good indicator that you’re providing value that they want to share with their contacts. 

It’s a good idea to also pay more attention to optimizing your calls-to-action (CTAs) and measuring their success. Since you’ll be looking at CTR more, you’ll want to encourage subscribers to click. Finding what works will help you to increase CTR and have more data to work with. 

Increase interaction with surveys and quizzes

Including quizzes and surveys in your emails is a great way to measure engagement, gather feedback, and learn more about the kinds of content your subscribers want to see. 

You can send a fun quiz to see how many responses you get, or use surveys to gather information on subscriber interests, preferred frequency of emails, even the time of day or day of the week that they are more likely to read your newsletter.

We’re always looking for ways to improve the MailerLite experience for our customers and their subscribers. With the focus on privacy set to continue into the foreseeable future, we’ll be making a number of updates to support this. As of now, the following new features are available.

  • Ability to enable/disable open tracking. If your subscribers are mostly using Apple Mail, we suggest disabling this and concentrating on more reliable metrics in your reports.

  • Filtering subscribers by email client. You can now filter out Apple Mail users to continue successfully running A/B test campaigns. This is a temporary solution—experts suggest carrying our tests to clean email lists and collect data to use later when opens become less reliable. 

  • Default settings. We have added the ability to set default tracking options for campaigns. Simply go to Account settings > Default settings > Tracking options.

As we’ll be relying less on open metrics and behavior patterns, it’s crucial to collect more data from customers directly. This is something that you can already do with MailerLite through signup forms.

Miglė, MailerLite’s Product Manager, had this to say:

"This is definitely a great time to give more control to subscribers. Implementing a preference center into MailerLite is one of the most requested features—and it’s already on the way. It’s a way to encourage people to share their preferences and engage with the newsletters that match their needs. 

"To complement this, we plan to add more dynamic content blocks to newsletters, as well as additional options for pop-ups. You can soon expect to see a survey block update to enable the collection of more feedback and preferences!"

Just like GDPR before it, Mail Privacy Protection is another wake-up call to start thinking about how we can optimize email marketing both for the user experience and for our own goals.

Now you know what this new feature means for email marketing and what you need to do to adapt your email marketing strategy, you’ll be able to create campaigns that respect subscribers’ privacy and provide more insightful data to improve campaign performance. 

"While the Apple Privacy Protection option will affect reporting, it will not hurt deliverability. Despite what open rate metrics say, your emails will continue to reach the inbox if you follow deliverability best practices. Healthy deliverability is about quality over quantity, so keep sending newsletters that your subscribers want to receive."
- Gabija, Deliverability Manager at MailerLite

How will Mail Privacy Protection affect your campaigns? Let us know in the comments.

Amy Elliott
Amy Elliott
I’m Amy, Content Writer at MailerLite. As a child, I dreamt about writing a book and practiced by tearing pages from an A4 notepad and binding them with sugar paper. The book is pending but in the meantime, I’ve found a passion for telling a different kind of story-the brand story-by writing fun, valuable, human content.
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