And what will this mean for email marketing? Let's break down your iOS 15 concerns. 

In September 2021, Apple launched its new Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) service which is now available for all users on iOS 15 Apple Mail devices.

On the new update, Apple said:

Mail Privacy Protection hides your IP address, so senders cant link it to your other online activity or determine your location. And it prevents senders from seeing if and when youve opened their email.

The new update has raised a lot of questions around how it will impact email marketing going forward - what this means for subscribers, the limitations of this new update for tracking and more. We acknowledge there are a lot of concerns around this new update and have created a centralised place to answer all your questions.

When did MPP launch?

The MPP announcement was made in June and shortly after we began to see iOS 15 beta activity in users testing. iOS 15 officially went live on 20th September, 2021.

What exactly is MPP?

MPP is a new privacy update, created by Apple for all Apple Mail iOS 15 users. The update hides a customers IP address, so senders cant track if you open an email, where you open an email or link it to any other online activity.

What audience does this impact?

MPP is available for all users using the below devices:

  • iOS 15 iPhone
  • iOS 15 iPad
  • iOS 15 Monterey Mac

What adoption rates are we seeing?

We are seeing high adoption rates (around 97%) of customers upgrading iOS 15 and as more users are nudged by Apple to update their phone, or users upgrade their phones we are likely to see a continued increase. In November, SparkPost found that just under 25% of customers were using iOS 15, which meant just under a quarter of emails were being affected and this is likely to continue to grow.


What will this mean?

This means that as iOS 15 adoption increases and with the 97% adoption rate of MPP, we wont be able to accurately track opens on nearly half of all email opens.

How can customers choose if they want to turn MPP on?

Apple users will get the option to select if they do or dont want to protect their mail privacy protection once they upgrade to iOS 15. Customers have the choice to select either option - neither is selected by default but once they choose to protect their mail privacy is when Apple will sync the changes with any apple device using that Apple ID.


What happens once a customer selects Protect mail activity?

Apple works by pre-fetching images in an email through a proxy server. They will pre-load tracking pixels so regardless of whether emails have been opened, anyone using iOS 15 will report false opens.

How will tracking pixels be affected?

Any open pixels will be blocked. Since Apple will pre-fetch all images, this will report ALL emails opened in Apple Mail clients with MPP enabled as opened.

What if the user doesnt use Apple Mail and uses Gmail or another mail service?

The mail service doesnt make a difference here as long as the user is reading it on an iOS 15 device. If the user has their mail going to the Mail App on iOS 15, iPadOS 15 or MacOS Monterey operating systems, Apple will pre-fetch those emails causing an open to be tracked even though it wasnt a user open.

How many people use the Apple Mail app?

According to SparkPosts 2021 Benchmark Report, around 38.1% of opens came from one of the Apple Mail App clients with 25.7% on iPhone, 9.6% on desktop and 2.8% on iPad.

What does this mean for open rates?

Marketers will no longer be able to track customer open rates, but there is an opportunity to focus in other areas such as click rates and conversions. Open rates will mean that certain campaigns which rely on an open will need to be reworked such as automated sequences. And any emails with the purpose of A/B testing and monitoring the peak time of open will be impacted.

What about clicks? Will these also be lost? What about bounces and other metrics?

When iCloud Private Relay (which will be a part of the new iCloud+ offering but is distinct from MPP) is enabled, all web browsing activities through Safari are encrypted and routed through multiple proxy servers. One interesting point to note is that Private Relay worked just as well over HTTP or HTTPS. This behaviour is different than some sites are reporting, but in multiple tests, our actual IP address was masked over both HTTP and HTTPS sites.

Additionally, Apple has not been modifying the query string, nor have they been changing the user agent string. So, first-party click tracking is not impacted by this feature. Similarly, since MPP doesnt actually change the mailbox provider (for that, users would use Hide My Email), bounces and complaints are not impacted by MPP.

What are we no longer able to track?

MPP will mean that we lose data on:

  • Open rates: these will appear higher than normal and provide a false representation of opens
  • Open time: these will again provide a false representation
  • Location: This will be lost as we will no longer be able to track this
  • Triggered responses: campaigns which require a trigger from the customer e.g. clicking a link to trigger the next email in the sequence will need to be remapped out.
  • Deliverability: it will be hard to see how many emails are successfully delivered - although what it will show it real subscribers (plus you can remove the iOS 15 customers from your data to give yourself a more realistic view)

What campaigns will be affected most?

Any campaigns which rely on customer behaviour (e.g. a customer opening the email to trigger the next in the sequence) will need to be reworked.

Campaigns like the below should be re-strategised:

  • Welcome sequences
  • Nurture sequences
  • Sales flow emails
  • Upselling campaigns
  • A/B testing

A/B testing will be hard to test as you wont get accurate results if you are relying on open rate. Things like subject line A/B testing or send times will be especially difficult to manage. Although there are ways around this like removing your iOS 15 users from overall results.

Is there a way around triggered campaigns?

You can ask customers for a reply in your welcome emails/triggered sequences. Whilst you cant rely on opens and clicks, you can give them an easy way to respond back. Of course, this only works for certain campaigns and wont apply to everything.

Another way around this is to encourage customers to click on a link within your email to trigger the next email. This could mean that emails are shorter, snappier and easier on the eye as you need to put more emphasis on navigating customers to where you want them to be to perform a task.

How will email deliverability be impacted?

Whilst your open rates will be unreliable there are still a few things you can do to improve your email deliverability:

  • Provide a double opt-in for all users: this will help keep your email list clean and inbox rate high
  • Flag the Apple vs non-Apple audiences to help dig into accurate opens and read time
  • Add additional metrics such as implementing a seed list to track inbox placement
  • Be more creative! Think about where customers are clicking, what will make them click, entice through imagery and powerful text.

What can you start doing now to protect yourself against MPP?

Whilst iOS 15 has been pushed live, theres still a lot you can do to protect yourselves again MPP. Remember users who have chosen to opt-in to MPP have done so for a reason, so respect their choice.

  • Create an audience segment without apple mail clients (iOS 15)
  • Think beyond the open rate. What else can you start tracking? E.g. tracking click rates, engagement, screen viewing time.
  • Evaluate the types of email you send and identify the ones which need updating
  • Regularly clean your email list and apply best practices for data hygiene

Quick reminder: email is more than your open rate

Email is about more than metrics, its about building long lasting relationships with your customers. And you can still do this with the new iOS 15 changes - if anything these new changes will help you focus on engaging with your audience in a better way.

What other engagement metrics can you start looking at to understand audience engagement?

Clicks, site traffic from email, loyalty club status, and purchase data are all positive metrics to use to gather audience engagement.

Negative engagement metrics are useful as well. High complaint rates on a particular campaign or messaging stream could be an indicator of less engaged or low quality subscribers.

If your current success metric is an open, not a click. What can you start doing?

While you may not be primarily focusing on driving clicks to your main content, you can interactive experiences to get clicks. For example, asking people to update their profile, respond to a poll, visit a podcast page, or asking them to refer-a-friend for subscriptions are all viable options in understanding if a user is truly engaging.

Pay close attention to the negative feedback too  complaints, unsubscribes, and abuse reports, iIf you see negative signals and a decrease in audience size month over month, you will want to make changes.

And thats all folks! For more information around iOS 15 check out SparkPosts ultimate guide to Apple Mail Privacy Protection.

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