Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection: Navigating an Evolving Privacy Environment

Alexei Kounine
September 13, 2021

It’s been a few months since Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection announcement, which will give Apple Mail users the option to “Protect Mail activity,” set to launch sometime between September – November 2021. It’s big news indeed, and it’s left many wondering what this means for the future of email.

We’ve been taking time as a company to understand the impacts to the marketing community, and to determine how Selligent and Marigold can help marketers evolve and navigate these changes. More importantly, we’re considering the opportunity this presents to all of us to think and engage differently.

In this post, we will provide an overview of some high-level impacts of the Apple announcement, including:

Based on the important nature of these changes and their potential impact on your email marketing strategy, we encourage you to take a deeper dive into this subject. To help you understand further, we recently hosted a special webinar event on Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection. This webinar, available now for on-demand viewing at your own convenience, explores in depth:

Details about how you can view this webinar on demand are at the end of this article.

The Evolving Consumer Data Privacy Landscape

How businesses interact with consumers continues to evolve. We must find new ways of creating and nurturing customer relationships that drive value. These relationships need to be beneficial to both the customer and the company.

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of policy changes. Global policies and regulatory changes affect advertising technology, digital marketing, and the ecosystem at large, including the General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, Canada’s anti-spam law, and also California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). To navigate this evolving environment, we need to adapt our consumer relationships. We need to establish and grow them over time to build meaningful connections.

Our approach is gathering first-party data. We’ve seen this already in practice in our everyday world. For example, we give a phone number or email address in exchange for loyalty points or a discount. Consumers want and deserve to be in control of their data. And it’s our mission to enable personalized, engaging connections between you and your customers in this new world.

We’re going to provide examples and some ideas on how to move forward in this dynamic environment. But first, we want to give you more insight into the changes that are happening, from a more technical perspective.

A Technical Overview of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection

At a high level, these Apple changes are consistent with broad trends we’ve seen in the email market over the last few years, including GDPR, Gmail image proxying, and open pixel filtering. The new Apple features are called Apple Mail Privacy and iCloud Private Relay. Both of these will be opt-in features for iOS, iPadOS, and macOS users.

Who is Impacted by Apple Mail Privacy Protection?

So what subscribers does this impact? Any subscribers who are using the native Apple Mail application to read their email, be it on an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac will be able to turn these features on. Subscribers who use those devices but instead read their mail through Gmail or through an Outlook application or on the respective web use are not impacted. Initial surveys show that for consumer list, this may be 30% to 40% of traffic, but the percentage of people who are affected will depend greatly on your specific audience.

So what does this mean for working with an email product?

  1. First, it means that open rates will become less accurate. Since email service providers measure opens by counting number of times that an image is loaded – and the Apple Mail privacy change will download all images when an email is opened by a device – this means that open rates will likely go up and also there will be no way of knowing if a specific subscriber has opened an email or not.
  2. The changes regarding IP address masking will affect geo-targeting features. So if you’re currently building a list based on the geographic region that a subscriber is located in, that will become less accurate over time. Specifically how less accurate it becomes won’t be clear until the feature is available in wider use from Apple.
  3. Additional areas of impact include engagement and open targeting. Using engagement criteria that target opens or automation steps that target opens will be less accurate than before. Also, device and client segmentation, building lists that use devices or operating systems, will be less accurate than it used to be.

Apple Mail Privacy Timeline

When is this all happening? Well, Apple traditionally releases their updates in September. We will continue to monitor and test each new beta release. We believe that these changes will get widely released in Q3 of this year. And based on adoption rates from previous operating system upgrades, we expect that we will see those be quickly adopted across iOS, iPad OS, and Mac Mail.

How Apple’s Email Privacy Changes May Impact Your Marketing Strategies & Measurements

Let’s step back and take a look at how these changes may impact your marketing strategies and how you measure them. As a recap, here are the three key things you need to know about how these changes will shape your efforts in the near future.

  1. Take credit for consumer activities beyond pageviews and purchases. Reviews, referrals, events, and more. Drip series and campaigns can influence user behavior just by being in a customer’s inbox. Use lengthier time windows to measure success.
  2. Collect data directly from the consumer when it’s important for segmentation or targeting. Ask. Don’t infer about language, location, time zone, and device preferences. Previously used inference methods are becoming increasingly less reliable.
  3. Consider collecting additional personal identifiers, phone numbers, and social handles, to help bridge gaps in conversion. Massed identifiers and features such as Hide My Email could make it harder to use a lone identifier as a single source of truth.

Where Do We Go from Here?

There are several areas that we can focus on for the future.

Going beyond opens and click-through rates: Opens and click-through rates were and remain proxies to larger success metrics, such as revenue or page views. Clicks will remain a relevant metric for engagement, but they don’t need to be the only success metric that you’re following. Email marketers often refer to single mass sends, what we used to call “batch and blast,” as campaigns. The irony is that these sends are themselves just a moment in a series of customer experiences. The aggregate of those experiences is what matters.

A campaign is a series of actions leading toward a goal or multiple goals. It’s time to talk about those goals. What are they? And what do they mean to you? As we look forward at our Selligent roadmap in the coming months, know that our goals are centered around knowing about your business goals. We’ll also be focused on making reporting on key metrics easier for you, providing you with a one-stop-shop for your success metrics across your digital channels, and making the transcript data between your systems and our systems seamless and as real-time as possible.

Leveraging metadata: Open rate and click to open rate are metadata points about consumer behavior, but they’re rarely the true business goal of email campaigns. A consumer’s loyalty to a product or a brand persists even if they don’t visit it, consume it, or use it every single day. Deriving the type of phone or browser from a web call from a device to server, mapping an IP address to a city or a region, hinging the definition of success on long-form newsletter because it was opened but for an often indeterminate length of time, these are examples of metadata points.

Digital marketing has always relied on processing metadata about consumers to position itself as a more attractive mechanism for selling products and delivering information. Any instance to give precise understanding of ROI appeals to executives. Media has long dealt with imperfections in measurement. Ratings books, print circulation numbers, even subscription counts. These were traditionally accepted measures of scale and success, but they never correlated to a precise number of eyes and ears consuming the content. It was and remains at best an estimate.

Commerce marketers benefit from straightforward attribution models, thanks to cookies and URL parameters. Purchases and revenue are often easy to collect and are traced back to ad hoc campaign sense. However, affiliate marketers know the difficulty in tracing things back to the right source every time. Revenue and purchase count are easy to calculate, but not every commerce company sees those values as the same, nor are they always the measure of success other stakeholders are evaluating.

The explicit shift to implicit attribution: Across all verticals, digital marketers need to look and start taking credit for more consumer activity. We have existed far too long in an explicit attribution model. When peers and other marketing channels display direct mail events are able to take credit through more implicit and less conservative attribution models.

Here’s what’s going to be different though. If you’re wondering, “Well, what’s the catch in all of this?” Digital marketing and digital marketers will undergo a shift to be even more comfortable with implicit attribution models for measuring success. Maybe a product review happens within seven days of receiving a post-purchase automation series. Let’s take credit for that. If a user clicks on a smiley face or a thumbs-up in your long-form, self-contained newsletter, at least once a week, take credit for it. Own that success and create a new baseline for active engagement. When a user attends an in-store or on-site event or webinar, attribute that back to the most recent automation or mass send as a met goal. What we owe stakeholders and executives is an understanding that we and they were already comfortable with implicit models of attribution in digital marketing. We can expand that universe to report, attribute, and segment on so much more than email opens and clicks.

Why Email Marketing Still Works

Let’s remember that, in spite of evolving privacy practices, email still works. And when it comes to building loyalty, end-users don’t think of their interactions with your brand as a campaign or a statistic. Consumers rely on email as a trusted, direct medium that delivers information, news, discounts, and shopping enticement – all in a mailbox that also houses critical bills, medical alerts, and messages from loved ones.

A study in 2020 showed that email engagement was up 200% since the pandemic began, at a time when things were pretty uncertain. That’s a great indicator of confidence in a medium that can cue app downloads, website logins, product reviews, travel plans, donations, event registrations, and so much more, all from a tap or a click in the palm of your hand. As our solutions continue to evolve to better tie push notifications, SMS, chat apps, and so much more to the overall workflow, we know email remains a tried and true method of communication.

Learn More About Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection

This isn’t the first technological change affecting digital marketing, and we know it won’t be the last. That’s why we encourage you to learn more about this important subject. As mentioned earlier, we recently hosted a special webinar event with industry experts on Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection. We talked with our guests about how to prepare for these changes and what to do to manage expectations for your stakeholders. You’ll hear more about:

This webinar is available now on demand, so you can watch it any time at your convenience. And check back on our blog regularly, as we will continue to provide more updates on this and other key digital marketing and data privacy issues.