My thoughts on Apple's "Mail Privacy Protection" feature
Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Apple announced a new iOS coming this Fall (macOS Monterey) that will include increased mail privacy protection. If subscribers choose to turn it on, it will hide their IP address, and not share whether they have opened emails.
This of course has enormous implications for the email marketing industry, as a large number of people use Apple devices to read their emails. Some businesses are super reliant on the so-called "spy beacons" that are placed at the bottom of emails for a host of reasons, including re-targeting, segmentation, and reselling. But all email marketers rely on these pixels to track their opens, and make sure they are sending to engaged subscribers.
I will admit, I get anxious if I let myself spiral-think about a future without email tracking pixels. And so I wanted to share my calmer thoughts with you on the subject today, to talk us all down from the ledge.
- The announcement is brand new, and more information will come. Yes, Apple has been trying to position itself as the champion of privacy for a while, so perhaps we knew something like this would come, but still, this is a big development and we don't have many details yet. Sometimes companies make announcements like these, and things are adjusted as they hear public feedback.
- The feature is going to be opt in (for now). Most subscribers aren't savvy enough to track down settings like these and enable them. This could just be a PR type move on Apple's behalf to make increased control available, but most likely, few people will use it (unless Apple makes the optin front and center after installing the new iOS).
- The playing field will be even for everyone, meaning all email marketers will have the same, new confines to work with. So we will all have to figure things out, from inside the same boat. This includes retailers, government organizations, blue chip brands...everyone. The inbox algorithms will have to change as every email marketer in the world is suddenly blind on whether a large portion of their list is opening or not. It's hard to imagine that Gmail will hold the same strict lines on mailing unopeners if we are unable to identify who unopeners are. Perhaps new best practices will develop.
- We'll have to develop new methods to maintain proper list hygiene. I'm not sure we can limit our segments to just subscribers who click, as that would greatly decrease our reach. This is however a potential, worst case scenario, in which case we'll need to test-test-test to find the most engaging swipes and sequences possible to build up our clicker files.
- I wonder if ESPs & MBPs will think through a less invasive way to track openers. I'm not a techie, so maybe this isn't possible. But, necessity is the mother of invention! Tracking openers is beneficial for all parties involved - marketers, subscribers, and mailbox providers - so it lifts all boats to find a compromise solution. Right now, open pixels allow marketers to target engaged subscribers only, thereby decreasing unwanted email and increasing relevancy for subscribers. I can't imagine the Postmaster at iCloud wants his servers inundated with emails to subscribers for weeks, months, years, even if they have never opened. Also, subscribers sign up for emails because they want them. Some companies' lists are content only, like a daily news email, and some branded lists tend to send sporadic sales and promotions, like your local wine store. It seems unlikely that the standard for businesses like these would be segmentation based on clicks only. I agree that tracking pixels can take things too far, but they also provide benefit to subscribers and marketers alike.
As a final thought, let's take a collective deep breath and take things as they come. When GDPR was announced, everyone's hair caught fire...but here we are, years later, still sending emails, still making money. I'm not saying that we should turn a blind eye to this development -- we will need to adapt, test, and brainstorm. And in the end, that is the nature of our industry, it is constantly evolving, each year is different. And so I am confident we will weather this change just as well as we have others in the past!