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New Privacy Protections from Apple – What they mean for you

Email Privacy updates included in iOS15?

On 7th June 2021, Apple announced the forthcoming release of a new operating system (iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey and watchOS 8).

As part of this new release, commonly referred to as “iOS 15”, Apple has revealed a series of new privacy protections designed to “help users better control and manage access to their data”.

News of these changes has become a major topic of discussion in the email marketing world as these new protections look set to impact on email open rates and marketing data quality for a sizeable audience.

Following a further announcement on 14th September 2021, iOS 15 was released on 20th September 2021.

Although it is hard to predict what the speed of adoption for the new operating system might be, data presented by Flurry Analytics appears to demonstrate that iOS updates with a focus on privacy & security features have a much quicker uptake. So it would be fair to expect the rate of adoption to be quite high. Meanwhile, Email Service Provider emarsys have estimated that 50% of Mobile Apple iPhone devices will have adopted iOS 15 by the start of November and as many as 90% of iPhone users will have migrated to the new operating system by the start of January 2022.

The purpose of this feature on the Rightmove Hub is to provide you – our customers – with the most up to date information on these updates and to summarise the actions that you may wish to take to optimise your email marketing efforts through this time of change. This document will be updated as we learn more.


New features & how they impact you

The two most important new features from an email marketing point of view are Mail Privacy Protection & Hide My Email.

1. Mail Privacy Protection – Blocking IP addresses & email tracking pixels
What is it?
  • A new protection set to be enabled on the Apple Mail app on all Apple devices (iPhone, iPad & Mac).
  • Once activated it will prevent email senders recording email opens and will mask the user’s IP address.
  • A high level of opt-in is expected among Mail app users who already represent a huge portion of email users.

This new feature will stop senders from using invisible pixels on emails to collect information about the recipient. As a result, email service providers will not be able to provide accurate open rates for Apple Mail users and will not be able to track IP addresses in order to build up an online profile of recipients.

Emails accessed via the Apple Mail app will be impacted (Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook). However, when a user is accessing their emails via another email application (e.g. the Gmail or Outlook apps) the privacy controls will not be in effect.

Although this new functionality will not be active by default, when a user first opens the Apple Mail app after migrating to the new operating system, they will be provided with the following options; “Protect Mail activity” or “Don’t protect Mail activity”.

Framed in this way, and with just a 4% opt-in rate for Apple’s Ad Tracking transparency tool as a useful precedent, it would be fair to predict a high level of opt-in for the protection.

How will this impact you?
  • You should expect to lose the ability to accurately track opens from your email marketing efforts.
  • Open rate will no longer be a useful metric for your database health.
  • You may not be able to rely on Send Time Optimisation (STO) as an effective tool.
  • Any email automations you use that rely on open data will need adjusting.
  • Using opens to determine the winner for A/B will no longer be possible.
  • Email Countdown Timers will still work but, with images downloaded ahead of time by Apple, the time shown will not necessarily be accurate for your recipients.

Email marketers should prepare to lose accurate tracking of email opens for a substantial portion of their audience. In July 2021, Litmus Labs estimated that Apple Mail (across all devices) accounts for 47% of all email opens recorded worldwide.

Where the protection is active, Apple state that this function “stops senders from using invisible pixels”. So it would be fair to assume that open rates will decrease.

However, it is understood that Apple is set to route all emails through a proxy server to pre-load message content before serving to readers. This will include the invisible tracking pixels, so an open is likely to be recorded before the email has even reached the recipient and open rate figures will probably, therefore,  be inflated. Litmus estimate an inflation of as much as 75% versus the true open rate of emails.

In either case, when these changes kick in, open rates, open locations and the devices or operating systems used to open a given email will no longer be trustworthy metrics. An obvious first impact of these changes then will be that open rate will no longer be an indicator of email marketing success or audience health.

In addition, “last open” can no longer be relied on for recent activity and additional functions such as Send Time Optimisation (STO) will not be as powerful. Email automations that rely on any logic concerning open rates will be problematic going forwards as well, but the true range and breadth of these changes will take some time to become clear.

2. Hide My Email – Option to create a fake email address
What is it?
  • A new function built directly into Safari, iCloud & Mail.
  • Allows users to hide their real email address when signing up for online services.

Hide My Email will allow users to share unique, randomly generated email addresses that forward to their own inbox wherever they wish to keep their actual email address private.

In addition, users will be able to create and delete these forwarding addresses as and when they require. Apple suggests this will give users greater control over who can contact them.

How will this impact you?
  • You may see an increase in the number of fake emails in your marketing database.
  • You will not be able to reach or verify customers using the Hide My Email function.
  • The bounce rate of your audience may increase.
  • You may need to spend more time cleansing your contact data.

There will likely be a significant increase in the number of false emails appearing in marketing databases due to an influx of randomly generated Apple email addresses. Marketers will not necessarily be able to reach these customers via email marketing channels and you will not be able to verify these leads.

As a result the bounce rate among your audiences may increase and it will be harder to gauge the health of your database. There may also be additional administrative requirements for your marketing team in terms of keeping your database clean.


What can you do?

There are a number of useful administrative actions you should take now to prepare for the new features.

Actions for the short term
  • Establish how much of your audience is likely to be impacted by these changes, to understand what impact this will have on your business.
  • You may wish to start segmenting your email data by device and operating system to separate users for whom you can and cannot trust the open rate data.
  • You might find it useful to test creative and segmentation strategies while you still have a full picture of the data and so you can head into the world of iOS 15 with as much data behind your content strategy as possible.
  • You may wish to revisit any automated communications you send based on open data as these will likely need to be altered to reflect the forthcoming deterioration of open rate data quality.
  • You will want to start prioritising click through rate and other metrics ahead of open rate in your marketing strategy.
  • You should do all you can to improve your email list hygiene now, while you have maximum visibility.
  • You should keep abreast of the latest developments with iOS 15 with updates from email and CRM providers such as Adobe providing in-depth analysis of the situation.
Actions for the long term
  • You may want to consider how you will measure the general health of your database going forwards as the open rate is unlikely to be a useful metric from this Autumn onwards.
  • If you are relying on gated content as a lead generation strategy, you may want to strengthen your proposition to users to encourage them to use their actual contact details rather than a forwarding address. For example if you are asking site users to sign up your website before providing access to brochures, pricelists and so on, you may wish to reconsider your message to users about how you will use their data and how they will benefit from providing their genuine email address.
  • If you are using a gated content strategy, you may also need to consider the risks posed by Apple allowing users to use false information to gain access to your services. Competitors could use the Hide My Email function as an effective way to bypass your content security without risk of being identified.
  • These new features from Apple are further evidence of the growing importance of privacy and security for consumers and technology providers. This is just the beginning. So be sure to consider how your company is using data and what you can do to reassure your customers and provide them with relevant, useful content.

Various commentators have speculated that by depriving email marketers of one of their key metrics for good, relevant content, there is the risk that the standard of email marketing could actually drop as a result of these changes. So you should be sure to develop a robust long term email marketing strategy and you should take action now to understand your audience, what performs well and areas for improvement.

This is a live document. We will update information here as we learn more about the impacts of the iOS launch.