At Apple’s WWDC conference on June 7th, 2021, Apple announced Mail Privacy Protection. The Mail Privacy Protection update is part of Apple’s larger initiative to help users take control of their data; however, it has a number of implications for email senders. To better understand how Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection could affect your email program, we asked our email deliverability experts to answer our most pressing questions.

What is Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection announcement?

Mail Privacy Protection is a new tab in settings that allows users to decide what data is shared when using the Mail app. Users can now hide their IP address and location information from email senders, which in turn, blocks open tracking.

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

By blocking open tracking, the Mail Privacy Protection prevents email senders from fully understanding how recipients are engaging with their businesses’ emails. While senders can still look at click tracking, it will be more challenging to recognize unengaged contacts or evaluate the success of an email campaign without open tracking data.

When will Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection be live?

iOS 15 is set to launch in September 2021.

What % of Twilio SendGrid volume is opened with the Apple Mail app?

Twilio SendGrid data shows 7.7% of all opens occur in the Apple Mail application, while Litmus shows 12%. This percentage varied even more in our conversations with other email service providers—some believe their Apple Mail volume to be as high as 30%.

User agent data is very challenging to track which is likely why we are seeing such a wide range of data. Plus, every business will have a slightly different percentage of recipients using Apple Mail. It will be important to keep an eye on open rates and see how they change come September to better understand how many Apple Mail users you have on your contact list.    

Does this only impact mail opened in the Apple Mail app? 

Yes. This only impacts engagement data from recipients who set up their email account within the Apple Mail app and enable privacy protection. For example, if an Apple Mail user sets up their Gmail, Yahoo, or private domain inbox within Apple Mail and enables Mail Privacy, opens would not be tracked for that recipient when they open messages in the Apple Mail app.

How will engagement-based sunsetting work for Apple Mail users? 

We believe the best solution will be to use click tracking instead of open tracking. Click events are less common than open events so it stands to reason that using click tracking alone will result in more subscribers being removed from your list due to non-engagement than when using open tracking. Depending on your situation, there might be other ways to connect a recipient’s actions with email engagement. From Twilio SendGrid’s perspective, open and click tracking are the only positive signals we have at our disposal. 

For more information on sunsetting, visit the following blog posts: Building Your Business Case for an Email Sunset Policy and How to Create and Execute an Email Sunsetting Strategy.

What happens if other mailbox providers or operating systems adopt a similar approach?

Senders and email service providers like Twilio SendGrid will have to adjust their approach for tracking engagement. Using opens to track engagement with your email channel has been the industry standard for decades. 

If senders lose a significant portion of engagement data, we will have to come up with new ideas and new ways of determining which recipients actually want our digital communications. For example, we could:

  • Ignore open data and rely entirely on click data. 
  • Move away from direct engagement data entirely. 
  • Ignore opens and clicks and replace that data with regular reconfirmation campaigns.
  • Use alternative channels (SMS, push notifications, video, voice, in-app, etc.) to confirm the desire to continue to receive email communications.

How will Apple restrict my ability to collect open tracking data?

This has not yet been confirmed, but we believe they will implement technology that loads all images when the email is received. This could mean that every email sent to a recipient who is using Apple Mail will appear to have been opened. Initial testing has proved to be inconsistent. Some messages show that all images are fetched by an anonymous proxy server, other tests show only a few images fetched, and some tests show normal behavior. 

Is there any way to determine if a recipient has this feature enabled?

No, not with a great deal of accuracy. Initial testing shows us that these opens come from very generic user agents and generic IP addresses as well. You may be able to approximate who is using Apple Mail’s privacy feature, but it will be just that—an approximation.

An evolving industry

As the email industry evolves, Twilio SendGrid will provide best practices and suggestions on how to adapt to any changes in privacy or regulation. We will update this article as more answers become available, and expect more articles on how businesses can prepare for this change. 

In the meantime, if you would like help addressing Mail Privacy Protection, delivery issues, or general email performance for your brand, reach out to our team of email experts.  

Luke is an email expert with a passion for solving difficult problems. Luke works on Twilio SendGrid’s Email Deliverability Operations team, monitoring and optimizing deliverability for all senders on the SendGrid platform. Luke has a deep understanding of SMTP, IP address and domain reputation systems, spam filters, blocklists, feedback loops, and email marketing best practices. If email is broken, Luke wants to help fix it.