Apple recently held its annual Worldwide Developer Developers Conference for 2021 (WWDC21), where the company showcased its forthcoming operating systems and new features coming for Macs, iPhones and iPads. One feature that has the marketing technology world particularly abuzz is Mail Privacy Protection, which is coming to Apple devices in the second half of 2021.

What is Mail Privacy Protection? Here is the description Apple offers:

“Mail Privacy Protection helps protect your privacy by preventing email senders from learning information about your Mail activity. If you choose to turn it on, it hides your IP address so senders can’t link it to your other online activity or determine your location. And it prevents senders from seeing if you’ve opened their email.”

First Things First: Tracking Pixels

The above statement essentially shows us what Apple sees as the future of the tracking pixel in email marketing. A tracking pixel is a graphic with dimensions of 1×1 pixels that is loaded when a recipient opens an email. When you send an email via ClickDimensions, the tracking pixel is added using a code in the email. If a recipient opens the email message, the code is processed by the client – usually the user’s mail app, like Outlook or macOS Mail, and this is registered and noted in the server and, for ClickDimensions customers, synced back to your Microsoft Dynamics 365 instance.

The following data can be acquired and analyzed with a tracking pixel:

  • Type of email used, for example on mobile or desktop
  • Type of client used, for example a browser or mail program.
  • Time the email was accessed was visited
  • IP address (gives information on the Internet Service Provider and location)

ClickDimensions has always used the concept of inferred opens that do not rely entirely on the tracking pixel placed in the email messages that you send through ClickDimensions. Inferred opens are when the recipient does not download images—including the tracking pixel—but they do click or unsubscribe.

On the Horizon: Mail Privacy Protection

Mail Privacy Protection will be available in the native Apple Mail app with iOS 15 on iPhones, iPad OS 15, and macOS Monterey. Emails opened in other email clients on an Apple device will not be affected.

While Apple has not announced specific launch dates for Mail Privacy Protection in each of their new operating systems, the updates are expected in September through November of this year. Once the new privacy options are available, email recipients will be able to choose to have their devices privately load remote message content, hiding their mail activity.

Apple is positioning this as an advantage for brands; that more people will read emails with all the images and visuals you include, as opposed to using features that block images in your carefully crafted email marketing messages.

They key changes they have flagged are:

  • Mail content will be loaded automatically after delivery and the time of mail viewing will no longer be correct.
  • Content is loaded without revealing recipient’s IP addresses; the location and type of device the email is being read on aren’t gathered.
  • Opens will be detected, regardless of if the user read it or not.

According to recent research from Litmus, more than 40 percent of emails are opened in an Apple Mail client. It is expected that many users will enable Mail Privacy Protection when or after they upgrade to the latest OS, so email marketers may begin to see their open rates slightly decline by November with continuing declines thereafter.

Of course, email opens are useful for marketing professionals, but as has been noted for some years, they have never had 100 percent reliability as an email marketing metric. If other mailbox providers and email client app creators follow Apple’s trend, open metrics will continue to become less valuable over time. Other strategies for tracking engagement can include:

  • More reliance on email clicks, unsubscribes and spam complaints
  • More comprehensive multichannel marketing across landing pages, surveys, social marketing and SMS
  • Regular reconfirmation campaigns

Happy Marketing!