What You Need to Know About Apple Mail Privacy Protection
Apple recently introduced a new privacy feature in the iCloud+ called the Mail Privacy Protection. It has received heavy criticism from small email newsletter publishers. They are worried that it may greatly damage many publishers as it denies them access to using a key metric called ‘open rate’ that is used in selling advertisements that keep newsletters viable. This metric determines the action efficacy and audience engagement by tracking the percentage of people who open these emails.
The Mail Privacy protection safeguards Apple users against unknown tracking and overly intrusive marketers for no additional charge. It is expected that by the time it becomes available, email senders will have little access to the recipient’s information. This means that publishers would not know whether the recipient opened the email or not.
What to Expect from the Mail Privacy Protection
According to Apple, this feature limits the amount of data email senders receive from you by prohibiting them from utilizing ‘tracking pixels’ or ‘invisible pixels’, which are widely used to collect information from users. By doing so, the Mail Privacy Protection prevents them from knowing whether the email was opened. It also hides the user’s IP Address to keep senders from accessing other online activities such as the user’s location.
As soon as you open the Mail app in iOS 15, the Mail Privacy Protection will be the first thing that pops on the screen. Whether or not you’ve heard of what it is, approximately 96% of Apple users will opt to turn it on. But what exactly are ‘invisible pixels’ and why is it necessary to block it with the Mail Privacy Protection?
Email Newsletters and Tracking Pixels
Tracking pixels or invisible pixels are basically links on a tiny image that is embedded in an email. This is usually the size of one pixel and it collects user information as soon as it is downloaded, which happens as soon as the email is opened. This way the sender can easily determine whether their email was opened or not, this is due to a unique tracking code that the pixel assigns to each individual subscriber.
This process enables the sender to use the Open Rate Metric which gives advertisers a clear idea on which newsletters to sponsor. Undeniably, this is an incredibly smart and convenient tracking method and is beneficial even to small and independent writers and publishers.
However, for the longest time, a lot of people aren’t very fond of this practice because it can be invasive. In 2019, for instance, Superhuman had to make a public apology when an elaborative blog post about how the company used invisible pixels for tracking went viral. In addition, a non-profit newsroom called The Markup only accepted an email provider and turned off tracking abilities after rejecting eight ones beforehand.
Effects on Email-Based Publishing
A lot of users are unaware of the use of tracking pixels. As Apple reveals the privacy dangers of invisible pixels used by marketers, most likely users would reject spy pixels. Rationally, nobody would willingly offer their details to an unknown email sender, and the fact that this process is done discreetly makes it even more uncomfortable for users.
This also gives us a clear image as to why the Mail Privacy Protection poses a threat to email-based publishing that rely on the Open Rate Metric. To elaborate, for May 2021 Litmus reveals that 93.5% of email opens on smartphones come from Apple users, whereas 58.% of desktop email opens are also from Apple Mail on Mac.
With these numbers, it is implied that this feature will greatly affect the email economy. However, one detail that is often overlooked is that there are numerous ways for journalists to thrive even with the pixel blocking feature.
Encouraging the Email Economy to Adapt
Alex Kantrowitz, author of Big Technology, believes that this shouldn’t be a problem, and emphasizes that the advertising industry’s addiction to tracking and certain metrics at the expense of creative content is exactly why people hate ad companies in general. Kantrowitz said that there is no need to obsess over pixel-based tracking, for there are a lot of other less invasive methods to use as an alternative. Having his ad inventory sold out in half a year is proof that these other methods indeed work, and it is all thanks to an exclusive audience determined through the traditional reader survey instead of pixel-based tracking. The Markup also makes use of this method and is successful.
Kantrowitz also noted how pixel blocking not only prevents junk clogging inboxes but also increases value and quality to email newsletters. Casey Newton, an independent newsletter writer, also encourages the use of other metrics such as story views, mailing list, and revenue growth.
This then means that ad-based newsletters are encouraged to rely on other methods to understand their audiences without having to invade their privacy. With that said, there is a plethora of options to choose from, and this change shouldn’t be as harmful to the newsletter-based businesses as it sounds. Instead, this brings in businesses to build apps more and offer in-app purchases as well as providing promotion with Apple’s advertising products.
With the rapid rise of tracking technology and invasive marketing methods, the Mail Privacy Protection is necessary to counterbalance this phenomenon.
Indeed, the email-based publishing and the use of invisible pixels have caused journalists to flourish the past few years; however that doesn’t mean that it is the only method available. In fact, there are a lot of other less intrusive metrics to use that are just as effective and will yield as much if not better results.