Apples new Mail Privacy Protection
Apple dropped a bombshell during their 2021 Worldwide Developers Conference by announcing a series of new security measures coming to the Apple Mail app, which handles emails for Mac OSX and iOS devices. Whilst there's still a lot of uncertainty about what the change will actually mean, it has already sent a shockwave through the industry, with some fearing it could mean the end of email marketing as we know it and others lauding Apple for giving more control to end users over their privacy rights.
The panic is primarily around the potential loss of valuable tracking data that email marketers rely upon heavily when analysing email campaigns and directing future efforts. Currently, this data is gathered when 'invisible pixels', which are included in tracked email campaigns, get downloaded by a user when they open an email. As well as informing email senders of when an email they've sent has been opened, the process also passes on the user's IP address (so the sender knows exactly who has opened their email and can link them to other online activity), as well as their approximate location. Some marketers also rely on knowing whether an email has been opened or not in order to automatically trigger subsequent emails.
Apple's privacy update plans to mark all emails as opened, regardless of whether they have been by the user or not, and to show Apple Mail's IP address rather than the user's. This monumental change will effectively render the data that email marketers are accustomed to analysing, largely useless. Marketers may have to work in new ways to target iOS users specifically or change their marketing strategy altogether. The change poses challenges not only for big brands and email agencies, but even for small businesses mailing their customer base, since they too will no longer be able to reliably gauge interest or the success of communications they send out.
The silver lining for those worried about the upcoming change is that the update will only affect the Apple Mail app itself, meaning that if a Mac or iOS user opens their emails in another app, such as Gmail or Outlook, the tracking pixels will still work. The industry anticipates that most Apple Mail users will opt to keep the new privacy mode turned on, even though there might be unintended consequences in doing so. One example of this is that users might continue to receive emails from subscriptions they no longer interact with, when they would ordinarily end up either being sent to spam or with the user being cleaned off the subscriber list. The result of this could ultimately mean Apple Mail users receive more unsolicited emails landing in their inboxes than before.
Research published by Litmus, a multinational email marketing company, reported that Apple Mail is currently used by around 12% of users, with Gmail accounting for 18% of the market share and Outlook coming in at around 9%. Whilst the potential number of users affected by this change is a significant number, history tells us that challenging situations often encourage creative solutions. Therefore, while existing tracking data may become less useful in the future, it could mark the start of a new approach in the way customer behaviour is analysed in marketing and in the way businesses measure and interact with their audiences.