What is Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection? A marketer’s guide

Apple iPhone with Mail app and notifications

Last updated: June 2022 

Around the world, email marketers were sent into a tailspin when Apple announced its Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) feature in July 2021.  

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature is part of a larger initiative to empower Apple Mail users to take control of their data. Launched in September 2021 as part of the iOS 15 updates, Apple explain how great experiences shouldn’t come at the expense of users losing their privacy.  

“Mail Privacy Protection 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 and when you’ve opened their email.”  

Understandably, this caused great debate amongst email marketers speculated about the death of open rates as a metric for marketing success. But is this really the case?  

In this article, we’ll outline everything you need to know about Apple’s MPP, as well as give you our expert advice on how to continue to deliver excellent results from your email marketing campaigns.

What is Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection?

Apple’s MPP was launched as part of the iOS 15 and macOS 12 Monterey updates across Apple devices. The feature allows users to choose whether they would like to protect their privacy online. Users who decide to protect their privacy will enable MPP and hide their IP addresses. 

How does MPP work?

MPP is not a default setting; users have to actively choose to turn on MPP. Whatever choice is made, it is then synced across all devices linked to the same Apple ID.  

When a user chooses to enable MPP, Apple will then route emails through a proxy server to pre-load the contents of the email (including tracking pixels) before sending it on to the recipient. Therefore, all emails are opened, even if your subscriber doesn’t end up reading your email. 

With future updates, Apple will continue to improve MPP, but for now, we expect MPP to work like this:  

  1. Email downloads are triggered when a user opens the Apple Mail app.  
  2. Apple downloads all the images in the email, creating a copy to a new location on the Apple Privacy Cache. This can happen randomly and at any time, i.e., immediately or after a couple of days. The email download is triggered by a proxy server with an IP address that masks their specific geolocation.  
  3. Apple’s caching process requests images, including the open tracking pixel, from an email service provider (ESP) like Dotdigital. This can lead to misleading tracking as the ESP thinks the email has been opened.  
  4. When subscribers do open the email, download requests are triggered, but instead of coming from the sender’s web host or the ESP server, it’s coming from the Apple Cache. This means you won’t be able to track the real open.  

How many subscribers will be affected by Apple’s MPP?

Apple’s MPP affects any email that is opened in the Apple Mail app, regardless of which email service is used (e.g., Gmail or a work account).  

It will not affect other email apps used on Apple devices like the Gmail app.  

According to Litmus, Apple iPhone (iOS Mail), Gmail, and Apple Mail (macOS Mail) continue to be the three most popular email clients, covering over 84% of the market share. Including Apple iPad (iPadOS Mail), Apple has a combined market share of 49.%. 

Since Apple launched its App Tracking Transparency tool, 96% of users took the opportunity to opt-out of ad tracking. Using that as our basis, it would be fair to assume adoption rates for MPP would follow suit and hit the high 90s.  

How does Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection affect email marketing?

MPP prevents email senders from fully understanding email engagement by anonymizing open tracking. That means it will be harder for marketers to measure opens after recipients enable MPP on their accounts. Ultimately, this will make it harder for marketers to identify unengaged contacts or to measure the success of an email marketing campaign.  

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Click tracking is still possible through MPP, so email marketers will still be able to measure engagement. In fact, click tracking is a better indicator of engagements than opens alone.  

Since the launch of Apple’s MPP, 47% of email marketers have claimed that the impact of the data privacy changes on their email marketing strategy has been neutral while 24% claim it has had a positive impact.  

Is this the end of open rates?

Since the beginning of email marketing, open rates have been the go-to metric for marketers to measure the success of a campaign. The real question is, should it be?  

Open rates have always been a “noisy” metric. For a long time, open rates have been unreliable. Any open – even a two-second peek or accidental click of a mouse – is recorded as an open and therefore an engagement, which is clearly not the case.  

Similarly, comparing open rates between campaigns often doesn’t make sense. You can’t compare the open rate of a welcome email to your general newsletter. One is a triggered program based on customer actions, and the other is an editorial piece designed to appeal to the masses.  

While there is still a place for open rates, Apple’s MPP is the shake-up marketers needed to shift their reliance away from open rates, to more insightful metrics of customer engagement. 

How can marketers adapt to the post-MPP world?

There’s no denying that the MPP feature in the iOS 15 update was a gamechanger, but it’s also an opportunity in disguise.  

Today’s customers believe that trust is the foundation for long-term loyalty. Customers want to do business with brands that understand and respect their privacy and are responsible stewards of their personal data. Brands are already doing a lot of work to engage customers more responsibly and respectfully but here are a couple of our top tips to ensure success in the post-MPP world.  

1. Adjust your success metrics 

It’s not all about opens. After all, what do open rates really tell you about customer engagement? If a customer is not engaged with your marketing or content, you need to shake things up. That’s why it’s vital you think about the alternative ways you can measure your success.  

Choosing your success metrics will depend heavily on your goals. What are you trying to achieve from your email marketing? Website visits? Then look to click rate. Customer engagement? Maybe you focus on the session duration. Increased sales? The ROI is the key metric you need to measure. You can find a breakdown of success metrics in Dotdigital’s ultimate guide to marketing metrics 

2. Test your CTAs 

Clicks are now going to be the easiest way to measure customer engagement with your email marketing. You, therefore, need to make it as enticing as possible to click through. That means making your call to action (CTA) stand out.  

There are many ways to do this – changing the button style, copy, color, etc. – but one thing is essential. You need to test. Customer behavior is unpredictable at the best of times. Just because a CTA worked in one campaign, doesn’t mean it will continue for weeks and months to come. Keep it fresh and never miss an opportunity to test.  

3. Improve your preference center 

One of the benefits of Apple’s MPP is the improved hygiene of your marketing lists. Apple only caches images if the Mail app is running, so you can at least be certain that those email addresses are valid. However, it does make personalization and timely email marketing more challenging.  

Without opens, re-engagement campaigns will be more difficult. This means you need to get smarter with your campaigns. Sending out regular requests to update marketing preferences is a great way to gauge engagement. The more preferences you collect the better you can continue to send personalized and relevant content that converts your email marketing contacts. 

4. Follow deliverability best practice 

With measuring engagement becoming more difficult, you need to ensure you’re getting the basics right. Timely and relevant email campaigns are vital for your success, so it’s essential you’re landing in the inbox. 80% of email delivery issues are caused by poor sender reputation.  

Good deliverability practices like having a clear, transparent, and informed sign-up process and double opt-ins will make sure that the contacts in your database want to receive your marketing, reducing the possibility of you ending up in the junk folder.  

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