Apple’s New Privacy Features to Restrict Email Tracking

Just when email-savvy marketers thought they were safe, and were laughing at their cookie/ device-based counterparts, Qassem Naim says new tracking restrictions stand to impact email marketing, lead generation, and customer journey management. 


Apple recently announced Mail Privacy Protection for their Mail app on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey devices due to release this year, between September and November. 

Changes include giving users the ability to render useless email tracking pixels, the backbone of open rate measures, as well as the ability for users with iCloud addresses to generate temporary fake email addresses that forward to their actual inbox.

In detail, this means:

Qassem Naim.

Bye-bye open rates: tracking pixels made Impotent 

Tracking pixels within emails have been used by email marketers for years, primarily to gauge open rates but also support identity management and location tracking. When these unique 1×1 pixels are downloaded from the email platforms content server, this flags the email as having been ‘Opened’. 

With this new privacy protection policy from Apple, mail content is expected to be download automatically upon delivery by Apple servers rather than the users’ device when its opened – so your emails will appear to have been opened regardless if the user has read them or not.

If you use engagement splits to drive different journeys or send users difference content, this won’t work as intended for Apple Mail Privacy Protection users. 

Apple will also also be introducing built in VPN-like features (iCloud Private Relay) to obfuscate user IP addresses and locations across not just email but web browsing.  

Who are you again? Email randomisation 

Just as everyone was championing first-party data as the answer to the cookie-pocalypse and loss of IDFA mobile IDs – Apples introduced the “Hide my Email” feature, enabling users to generate random email addresses on the fly.

Obviously, competitions and other lead generation activity will be impacted, particularly as it relates to identity management. If you deduplicate on email address, now a user could be present in your database multiple times for each randomly generated email used. 

This will also have significant impacts for matching email databases for activation across external platforms e.g. Custom Audiences, impacting match rates as the email address you have for a user probably won’t match the one they use for Facebook, Google, NZ Herald, etc. 

Sales and conversion attribution using first party data will also be impacted, as the email address you target with an email might not be the same as the one used to checkout or complete a purchase. 

How will this impact us

So, with more tech operators like Apple making privacy paramount, what are the implication of this announcement for email marketers?

Overall, where to from here and how much will depend entirely on how Marketing Automation platforms respond to changes. Currently most major providers do indeed use open tracking pixels, but will no doubt seek out new solutions to overcome the loss of visibility so many marketers have relied on. 

It’s also worth noting that while Marketers have had a huge amount of trackable data for a long time, enabling us to track everything all the time. We must acknowledge the privacy landscape has shifted and while this might make it trickier in the short-term to execute our marketing activity – for many customers this is a welcome change for them.  

So, in the meantime marketers may need to rely less on open rate metrics for success tracking, list hygiene, and journey path management. 

Channels and measurement

Marketers must continue to look beyond opens. Click through data to content on site and downstream sales are now not only the best, but only option for tracking engagement and success across Apple Mail Privacy users. We should be reviewing email content to be shorter, teaser bites, strong CTAs focused on driving click-through to site to discover more. 

Inferred open rates or similar derived metrics will likely serve an interim purpose (you can’t click if you don’t open). 

We should consider other owned channels where everything can be trackable – websites, apps and other owned properties become even more valuable towards making a customers experience more personalised. 

CX and identity management

Marketers will need to be cognisant of this impact when performing database hygiene or using engagement splits. Sequential or triggered journeys that reference email opens won’t necessarily reflect actual customer behaviours from Apple devices. 

Consider the value exchange of someone providing you a real, or at least consistent email address. If they have to sign in (for example, Spotify) to have a smoother checkout experience or see their personalised recommendations they’ll have to use the same one every time and that will at least save you the duplication problems and enable you to continue to track and manage their individual journey.

Looking beyond email-only identification and leveraging more sophisticated identity resolution using a range of identifiers (such as Household, Device, first-party cookies, Behavioural, and second- and third-party IDs) will continue to become increasingly important to understand your customers. 

About Qassem Naim

Qassem Naim is Head of Data & Tech at FCB New Zealand.

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