Apple Announcement – iOS15 and its implications for email marketers 

At their annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote on June 7, Apple unveiled a number of key privacy-focused updates that will be included in the new iCloud and iOS 15 operating system, due for release in Autumn. As part of these changes, a new ‘Mail Privacy Protection’ tab will be added within the Mail app. Users can decide how much personal information is shared with email senders and can restrict access to their IP addresses and location information. In the Apple Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using open tracking pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature also 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.

Furthermore, Apple will be releasing ‘Hide My Email’, part of the iCloud+ paid for service. The new feature enables the creation of single-use, randomly-generated relay email addresses that can be used to forward mail to users’ real accounts. The new service is designed to further limit companies’ ability to collect consumers’ personal data via email and may help mitigate the rates at which users receive junk mail.

We’re aware that you may have lots of questions, so I thought it would be useful to share our thoughts on the news, the implications and opportunities for the industry as well as how you can prepare now.

Implications for email marketers

Open tracking rejection

It’s not known how Apple will “stop senders from using invisible pixels” if the “Don’t protect Mail activity” option is selected.  However this could potentially affect any email opened from the Apple Mail app—no matter which email service is used such as Gmail or a work account. However, this shouldn’t affect other email apps used on Apple devices like the Gmail app on an iPhone.

Because we don’t yet know exactly how Apple will treat tracking pixels, we can’t say for sure how much of an impact Mail Privacy Protection will have on open rates. The market share of Apple IOS in the UK is approx 50% but not all users will be using the native mail app. Assuming that a substantial number of users agree to the privacy controls, email open rates will likely decrease over time for Apple mail app users as new users adopt the feature. If your audience makeup is skewed toward Apple Mail users, the open rate will be more heavily affected.

Whilst we are unsure of the exact impact on open rate reporting, this is something that the Pure360 Engineering team will continue to monitor very closely.

Other implications for certain types of personalisation

  • Personalisation based on IP targeting may also be restricted as would IP-based weather targeting. This is not so much of a problem for our personalisation suite as the vast majority of location activity is based on user profile data (i.e. postcode).
  • Segmentation, or targeting based on last open date (i.e. for lapsed re-engagement programmes or some journey automations) might not be accurate for apple mail app users and performance may need to be reviewed or changed to be based on click rather than open for those users.
  • A/B testing subject lines using opens to determine the winner will not apply for apple mail app users but still useful as a guide for overall comparative performance.
  • Send time optimisation based on open may be less accurate for apple mail app users.

Throwaway Relay return emails 

The use of throwaway email addresses is something that may hinder marketers’ ability to cross-match multiple email addresses used by an individual across multiple devices and multiple web properties. 

Moreover the use of throwaway email addresses may confuse consumers when it comes to opting out. Users may subscribe using an apple email address but try to unsubscribe using their personal email address. Quite frankly why Apple is choosing to provide this service when there is perfectly successful and appropriate legislation and opt-out management process governed under GDPR regulations remains questionable. 

However, the hide my email feature is part of a paid for service and adoption is unlikely to be as high as mail privacy protection. Consumers are only likely to use these if they don’t want to use their own email address for fear of being a victim of spam in the future. If they trust you, the email address you are likely to get will be a real one and we envisage that consumers will continue to use their real email address for what they deem to be important such as transactional emails. It is therefore prudent to make sure that marketers provide sufficient information and messaging to promote the benefits of signing up with their real email address. 

This service has been available for quite some time already and current numbers across our network suggest that the use of relay emails is extremely low but we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Opportunities and the future 

Brand trust is even more important now

Mail Privacy Protection is off by default and it is still an option that consumers need to activate so all is not lost. Email marketers need to work hard to encourage customers to trust their brand and to encourage them to allow tracking. In doing so, someone is more likely to buy from a business they have confidence in. A tracked open in an email from an Apple account would suggest a much higher level of engagement and loyalty than previously. 

Continued evolution

Successful marketers are those that adapt. The last 12 months have proven how well we can achieve this.

Open tracking is one useful indicator of consumer engagement and plays a role in list hygiene. There are concerns that this change could actually drive worse service for consumers. Blocking email opens deprives brands of a key list health and subscriber engagement metric. It could lead to more unwanted email for subscribers and could exacerbate deliverability because it makes inactivity management and engagement-based segmentation difficult. 

However, these changes underline the point that marketers should not be wholly reliant on open rates for assessing the strength of their marketing activity but instead should use CTR and other post click event tracking to understand the true value that their email activity drives.  Which is argued could be a positive move for marketers and the industry. 

The email industry has undergone shockwaves on an annual basis whenever new channels are launched or new privacy controls implemented. At one time, Mobile was going to be the email killer, then social media. Apple and Google have announced a number of privacy controls over the years but the email and digital industry as then, will continue to adapt. 

For many, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is seen as a blow to consumers who desire a personalized experience from the brands they trust, but if anything, we believe this should drive marketers to concentrate their efforts on driving the best email practice they can.

What can Pure360 clients do to prepare?

Right now, marketers can prepare by testing using metrics outside of opens. Understand what is most appealing to their audience using metrics that can be segmented upon in the future.

  • Consider the potential impact by determining how much of your audience even uses Apple Mail to read your emails. It might not even matter!
  • Start testing creative to understand what’s most compelling to your audience so you can confidently continue sending emails that drive engagement.
  • Start tracking click-through rate over delivered (if you aren’t already) to set a new, additional baseline for campaign success moving forward.
  • Clean up your lead quality, list hygiene, and sender reputation since you may not be able to rely on opens anymore as a sign of a deliverability problem.
  • Create audience segments and cohorts that rely on open data so you can keep on using them, at least in the near future.

Some brands are considering  putting in place validation controls in sign-up registration forms, particularly during the transaction/checkout stage in order to reject apple relay email addresses and insist that consumers provide their email address. This may help to improve data quality but may decrease sign-up conversion.[1]  

Please be assured that the Pure360 Engineering Team is currently analysing the impact of the iOS 15 release for future changes to our roadmap. We will be closely evaluating the situation during launch and will act accordingly.

In the meantime, we would invite you to chat with our Account Management and Consulting Teams, who are always available to help you improve attribution and are well placed to help you define an effective measurement strategy as our industry evolves.   

Meet the author

Mark Ash