Mail Privacy Protection: What It Is, Why You Should Care & 3 Things You Can Do About It

If you send marketing emails to your customers and contacts, you should pay attention.

(And if you don’t send emails, why the hell not?!)

Mail Privacy Protection, arguably one of the biggest changes in the world of email marketing, is coming to a device near you very soon and you need to understand what it means.

It shouldn’t be one of the biggest changes – it should be just another positive step forward in the ever-evolving world of digital marketing.

But it is a big change, because it effectively means the end of something businesses and marketers have been relying on for faaaar too long.

More on that in a moment.

What is Mail Privacy Protection

Some time in the coming weeks, Apple will release the latest major update to their iOS operating system.

iOS 15.

And with it will come a setting allowing users of Apple’s Mail app to prevent email senders from tracking email. That’s a lot of people.

At Airbase we have clients for whom Apple (and especially iPhone) users comprise upwards of 40% of their audience. When your mailing list is in the 10s or 100s of thousands or more, that’s a significant number.

Mail Privacy Protection is the latest step in Apple’s mission to champion the cause of personal privacy.

In a digital world that is moving increasingly to a privacy-first model (quite right too), Apple wants to prevent app developers, marketers, businesses and others tracking users’ activity without their explicit permission – and thereby capturing data that can be used for targeting adverts, amongst other things.

Apps distributed through Apple’s App Store must now ask for users’ permission before they can track activity.

The protections built into Apple’s Safari browser are increasing almost with every new release.

And now this latest move from the tech giant will guard against tracking users of their native Mail app.

What does this mean?

Here’s why this is a big change (even though it really shouldn’t be).

The effect of Mail Privacy Protection means, amongst other things, you won’t be able to track who opens your emails and who doesn’t.


I know, right? How will you justify your out-dated, one-size-fits-all, spray-and-pray email marketing programme now?!

Except that’s not true of your email marketing, is it…?

And of course it’s not strictly true that you won’t be able to track opens. You just won’t be able to track them on Apple’s Mail app.

Plus, any email service provider worth using will filter out those results to avoid skewing the numbers in your report.

But those numbers will still be pretty meaningless.

Why you should care… Or more accurately, why you shouldn’t

To some of us operating at the sharp end of email marketing, Mail Privacy Protection is a welcome development.

Here’s why.

For far too long, too many email marketers have used email open rate as a measure of success.

It’s not. It never has been. And now you’re being forced to stop.

Ok, so in the interest of balance… yes, open rate is not an entirely useless metric. It has some value in the broader picture, particularly in relation to judging levels of engagement in the aggregate.

So Apple’s move may bring unintended consequences, like recipients receiving more unwanted emails (though if they weren’t opening your emails in the first place, I’m not sure it much matters).

In some quarters there’s been squawking about the impact on personalisation – but, again, I’d argue effective personalisation should be based on other, much more instructive indicators.

In short, there are performance measures that are a bazillion times more useful than open rate.

Which is why you really shouldn’t care about the introduction of Mail Privacy Protection.

Here’s what you should do instead:

1. Stop bothering about open rate

Open rate has always been something of a vanity metric (at least in the way it’s most commonly used), rather like the number of Views on a LinkeyDink post or Likes on Flakebook. Plus, it’s notoriously unreliable. So as a measure of performance, it’s really pretty flaccid.

Instead, identify the more meaningful metrics you can use to track the performance of your campaigns. Link clicks is an obvious example. And heaven forbid you should measure the actual conversion rate!

2. Segment your audience

Sure, there are times when sending the same email to everyone on your list is appropriate.

But chances are those times are few and far between.

Far better to segment your audience based on what you know about them: who they are; how they found you; what products or services they’ve shown interest in.

Not only does this make your email marketing a bunch more interesting, it delivers better results too.

Here’s why…

3. Send them stuff they’ll be interested in

If you segment your audience and tailor your email content accordingly, you’re more likely to send stuff they’re actually interested in, and therefore more likely to engage with.

Which means, surprise, surprise…

Better results. More clicks, more conversions, more actual sales.

This truth remains: no-one minds you sending them emails (you should probably be sending more). What they mind is you sending emails that are boring and irrelevant.

Follow the steps above and you’ll find it really doesn’t matter what your open rate is because you’ll have your mind on much bigger things.

So what’s next?

Whilst Apple have sought to make the whole ‘battle for privacy’ their own cause celebre, the fact is we can expect more of this from all corners of the digital world in the years to come.

Yes, to a degree the Big Tech companies are being forced down this road. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

And Apple is arguably a slightly different animal, insofar as it largely sells software and services to run on its own hardware in a closed ecosystem. So it can do what it likes, and scoop the PR rewards..

But if the ongoing concern about privacy shows us anything, it’s that no-one can hide from having to address these issues.

Just look at the results of the Age Appropriate Design Code (now Children’s Code) being introduced in the UK. The effect of that – albeit somewhat under the radar – has been significant and global.

The debate rumbles on about how to replace third-party cookies, when Google finally phases them out. And we can expect more of these developments as time goes on.

Mail Privacy Protection is by no means the last move. Just the latest one.

And it should be welcomed.

If you need help improving the results from your email marketing, click below to book a short call and let’s talk:


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