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Apple’s New Privacy Policy is a Garden of Opportunity
by Habeab Kurdi last updated on 0

Apple’s New Privacy Policy is a Garden of Opportunity

Recently Apple announced that they are changing their privacy policy with the upcoming iOS 15 and macOS Monterey update — and we’re (email marketers) all doomed.  

OK OK, that’s not true at all!  

Well, the first part is, but in no way is this a death knell for email or email marketing. In fact, we believe it’s a very positive move, and is an opportunity for everyone as a whole.  

Afterall, we’re users too. We want our privacy, and we want to control who knows what about us and our activity online. With the recent announcement, come this fall (between September and November), Apple will give users the option to protect their privacy further and mask location-identifying IP addresses.  

This would disrupt tracking of major marketing tools such as data on who opens your emails and who does not (open rate) and IP Address (which provides the valuable geographic data) on iOS devices and through Apple Mail.  

An iPhone display demonstrating a users ability to hide their email address.
From Apple’s recent press release: Built directly into Safari, iCloud settings, and Mail, Hide My Email enables users to create and delete as many addresses as needed at any time, helping give users control of who is able to contact them (Image from Apple press release).

The road ahead may be changing, but the vehicle you’re driving can stay the same.  

 We don’t know what we don’t know yet, as Apple likes to keep some things close to the vest. But we’re going to navigate this road together, and make the ride as smooth as possible for all of us.  

 Let’s start with the basics of what is happening. If you’re already in the know on this, skip on down to the next section where we’ll give some tips, advice, suggestions, and even expand on why this is a really, really good thing, not something to fear.  

Let’s bite into this, together. Onward!  

Stay up to date on our blog, where we’ll keep you posted as things evolve.

Wait, so what’s happening?  

Apple recently announced its new operating system – the iOS 15.   

Along with plenty of improvements to their core apps, they’ve also introduced additional privacy controls to their Mail application.   

When enabled, this upcoming feature will prevent email senders from collecting information on email opens, location, and IP address from Apple Mail apps users. While this won’t affect all users, it will change the way we (as an emails sender) approach our lists and email KPIs in general. 

The Mail Privacy Protection features will:  

  • Prevent senders from tracking whether an email has been opened  
  • Prevent senders from learning what the recipient’s IP address was  
  • Let users sign up for services with randomly created email addresses and keep their personal addresses private 

Now, it’s not clear as to how Apple will stop tracking pixels from being loaded. It’s hard to imagine that they’ll be able distinguish between the tracking pixel and regular images present in emails.   

The likely approach is that Apple will preload images (and hide the IP address) for the recipients, similar to what Gmail has implemented in the past. While this may not necessarily mean we’ll completely lose the ability to track opens, the opens will appear right after the message has been delivered and not when the recipient actually opens the message.  

The rationale for why Apple’s doing this? Privacy has become Apple’s USP, a good reason to pay premium for otherwise not-so-unique-anymore products.  

At the same time, the conspiracy theory seekers might think that Apple’s playing a long-term game, where they’ll let marketers target their users more accurately only if they pay for some additional services (for example, advertising space).  

Another screenshot example of hiding privacy information on an iPhone.
Hide My Email lets users share unique, random email addresses that forward to their personal inbox anytime they wish to keep their personal email address private (Image from Apple press release).

 The problematic part:  

  • Email marketers use open rates to track user engagement and manage their email list hygiene. How will they now do that? If they’re unable to do this accurately, they may choose to blast emails to both engaged and unengaged users, unknowingly. This is not a good option, as anyone doing so will continue to deteriorate their email deliverability & provide worse service for their email subscribers.  
  • Email marketers have used open rates to resend content they thought you wouldn’t want to miss out on. What will they do now? If they stop resending invites and event reminders, you might lose out on the content you hoped to see. And if they don’t stop sending these reminders, they’ll flood the inboxes of people who just chose to ignore the message and didn’t want to see that particular piece of content.  
  • The way the privacy settings prompt is served, most likely the majority of users will choose to have their privacy secured. But what they won’t realize is that because of these settings, marketers won’t be able to tailor the content to their needs (other than based on the click-throughs). Now, based on the information from our survey, we see that 80% of respondents are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences.  
  • What’s more, 90% indicated that they find personalization appealing. A separate study from Accenture shows that personalization can mean a deeper connection with your customers. 65% of the consumers in their study were willing to share more personal data in return for a better, more customer-focused experience. (Just look at Netflix – who doesn’t want to receive movie recmmendations and not waste a whole night picking a movie?).  

Who it will affect  

The changes will affect the Mail app users on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey.   

It’s hard to estimate how many Apple Mail app users there really are. According to the latest data from Litmus, Apple iPhone holds the 1st spot (47.1%) and Apple Mail holds the 3rd (13%), in terms of market share.  

Apple's new privacy policy will affect tablets and iPhones alike.
Apple’s new upcoming privacy policy won’t turn things on their head so much as create new opportunities to engage your audience and make even stronger connections (Photo by Dollar Gill/Unsplash.com).

What does this mean for you?  

Learning to trust other metrics and rely on other data other than focusing on open rate (OR).  

Eventually, this common metric to gauge success of sent emails and email campaigns, to see who actually has opened your emails and who has not, will no longer be as reliable and valuable as it is now. There will still be a reason to look at it, especially if you can segment your audience to see which of your customers use Apple/iOS and which are on Android. But for those customers who opt to have their privacy protected, you’ll no longer be able to see if they have opened your message or not, thereby skewing your data.  

Look at this as an opportunity, though. For now, open rate is still useful and reliable, so dig into your data now and over the next couple months to see what correlates well with open rate for your customer base and your lists.  

Check out your most engaged (and all) users, is there a metric, such as conversions, that aligns strongly with OR for you?  

It could be click-through rate, conversions, replies – each industry and audience will be a bit different. As things progress, we’ll dive into this deeper and show you some ways to unearth hidden gems to keep you moving forward and keep your marketing campaigns successful.  

One other thing to bear in mind is that, if you have marketing automation or autoresponder flows set to engage your audience members who do not open a message, either by resending the message or sending another follow-up communication, you’ll want to change this when the policy is launched. Because if you don’t, you could wind up sending follow-up emails to people who actually did open your email (you just couldn’t track it and see it), and you risk annoying them or even getting an unsubscribe by sending an unnecessary email.  

This also could mean, according to our friends at Really Good Emails, “that also means that time stamps, forwarding, device identifiers, and even live content (like the cool countdown timers we use) will become useless too.” 

Empower your audience 

An iPhone hovers above a users' hand.
This fall Apple will update its privacy policy across all its devices (Photo by Neil Sony/Unsplash.com).

Although IP tracking will all but vanish on Apple/iOS devices, that doesn’t mean you are left in the dark as to where your audience lives. You just need to get creative, and keep it as simple as just asking them for the information.  

Engage your audience with authenticity. Put the power in their hands, and give them the option to share information with you. In your messaging, be upfront and honest and reflect on this change as a positive.  

One great way to get ahead of the curve is to run an email campaign acknowledging the coming change, and telling them you’re on board with this. Then, try asking for the information directly from the source. Ask if they’re willing to share some information with you, and let them know how you’ll use it (for example, you won’t sell their info, you’ll only use it to make sure they are getting the absolute best and most relevant content from you).  

Explain how tailored content is a benefit to them, to receiving special deals and offers, and that by allowing you to have certain information (in lieu of tracking) they aren’t wandering around aimlessly in the digital shopping world, but rather are able to find what they want and need much more easily.  

You can use a preference center, and give them a short survey or questionnaire seeing if they’re willing to voluntarily give you their geographic location, or maybe even just their region or time zone. These can still be very valuable.  

In this way, you’ve been given a perfect opportunity to gain even more trust from your audience, and to reestablish your connection with them.  

Talk to them as a user yourself, as someone who values your own privacy. You could try telling them that this will help you deliver to them the content they want and signed up for. Remind them why they’re on your list to begin with, and mark this as the next stage in your relationship.  

And of course, this is an opportunity to really start A/B testing your content to see what your audience loves the most. Most of all, test out your CTAs to see what gets more clicks, and even get creative with what your provide as CTAs to focus in on clicks as a very reliable and handy metric.  

What’s next?  

An old Macintosh Plus shows Apple's ongoing evolution.
Apple is continually evolving to try and be at the forefront of what’s next, which continues today with the announcement of their new upcoming privacy policy (Photo by Museums Victoria/Unsplash.com).

Where there is a lack of information there are sure to be rumors and speculation right nearby.  

Apple is playing it close to the vest, and guessing at what they’ll ultimately do and how it will play out is just that, guessing.  

So here’s what we do know, and what we can surmise from there.  

Will others follow suit? Well, Apple’s biggest competitor on the mobile market is Android, which is owned by Google. Google could very likely come up with their own contingency plan to address privacy and tracking. If that happens, then open rates will all but vanish as those two platforms account for nearly all phone operating systems.  

Then there’s the other mail providers. Will Yahoo! for instance make an effort to show that they are serious about privacy, too, and follow suit?  

Without clear answers, the best thing to do is be prepared.  

In our advancing digital age, with more commerce occurring online every day, having a diverse, multipronged effort toward your marketing is already crucial.  

Even if you haven’t branched out to other avenues, such as SMS, now is the time to test it out and see what you can learn about it, and about your audience. Give social ads a whirl. Add some new CTAs and offers in your emails and try tracking your clicks in different ways.  

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