Apple iOS 15 and your email marketing

Oct 18, 2021 | Data privacy, Email marketing

No doubt you’ve heard something about the update from Apple that has email marketers in a tailspin. In June, Apple announced their iOS 15 update, which has major privacy advantages for Apple users. And a major impact on email marketers.

Melaina Gross


Following this announcement, we jumped into investigating and figuring out what this all means for email marketing strategy and campaign reporting.

What is it? 

Apple’s iOS 15 update offers users three things that have a big impact on email marketing:

Apple mail privacy protection

The ability to turn off open tracking of emails (Mail Privacy Protection or MPP)

The ability to block their IP address (Private Relay, which is a feature available in iCloud subscription)

The “hide my email address” feature (Though not new, it is now more prominent. This is a feature within iCloud+, or when they sign in with Apple. It’s Apple’s version of a single sign-on, or SSO, solution.)

What is all the fuss about?

Apple mail privacy protection

Mail Privacy Protection (MPP)

In a nutshell, there will be a bunch of stuff going on in the background that will make your email open rate reporting a whole lot less accurate. This means that the open rate metric will become less important to email marketers because we can’t rely on it anymore to tell us certain things, namely that our subscribers are interested in our mails.

You might wonder why this such a big deal – isn’t more privacy a good thing?

The trouble is that subscribers who enable MPP will receive less relevant emails, and more emails in total, than they would otherwise have done if marketers could better measure their engagement through email opens.

This impacts your ability to split test email campaigns, remove / re-engage inactive subscribers, and effectively grow and manage your email list.

Open rate is a big one and this is what most of the fuss is about.

  • Deliverability – A good email marketing practice is to track open rates and remove unengaged subscribers from your list to keep your lists in good health, and for strong deliverability with Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This update has a significant effect on this practice, and email service providers (ESPs) and ISPs are having to deal with this change.
  • Open rate was used to judge if someone was or wasn’t interested in your mail. Email open rate gave us a way to understand the quality of the subscriber. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it offered a decent yardstick of how your messaging was resonating with your audience over time. In terms of marketing automation, existing automation journeys will need to be adapted. Email opens are used as decision splits which trigger the next email to be sent. For example, if the user opened the first email, then send the next email. Lead scoring models and CRM/sales strategies will also require an overhaul.
  • Clicks will still be tracked. What about using clicks and conversions instead? The percentage of these is really small (1 – 3% on average). Are we going to start disregarding recipients that don’t click? What if your content doesn’t require a click through? After all, not every email has to convert somebody…
  • A/B testing of subject lines will now be less reliable. A knock-on effect on the entire email marketing industry is that ESPs and other companies that offer A/B testing functionality in their platforms will have to adapt.
  • Send time optimisation allows emails to be sent at the optimal time for each user, based on previous email open times. With the lack of open rate data, the effectiveness of this feature will be severely impacted.
  • Live content in email – Countdown timers won’t work for these users any longer, and different ways to communicate urgency are needed. Use the subject line and preheader text.

Private Relay

If a user has enabled the Private Relay, you will no longer reliably know what their location was when they opened your mail.

A small number of brands were relying on IP address to serve location-based content. For example, showing the nearest restaurant or store to subscribers based on where their IP address says they are located will no longer work. Using the IP address wasn’t really an accurate indicator of location, so this impact is relatively low. Investigate other ways to record this data, such as self-segmentation emails that ask for details on their location.

Using progressive profiling to gather more accurate information about your subscribers is the best route to take as we can no longer infer (or guestimate) what we know about our subscribers based on their location or email opens. We need them to tell us.

Hide my email (also known as a burner email address)

“Hide my email” allows users to create unique, random email addresses that automatically forward to their real email address. Emails sent to these addresses will still be delivered to the user’s inbox, but the sender will not know that user’s real email address.

Users can do this on any form requesting an email address in the Safari browser.

If people hide their true email address from five different companies, they will have generated five different fake email addresses—one for each website. In other words, each fake email is used only once.

Also, users can delete their burner email address at any time, resulting in a hard bounce when you send mail to them. When many people do this, it could result in a high bounce rate and affect your overall email deliverability.

It could be tricky to tie user behaviour back to a single user if different email addresses are used. For instance, if a customer uses a fake email address when signing up to your newsletter and a real email address when they actually make a purchase.

How many of your subscribers will be affected?

According to Litmus, 49.8% of all emails were opened in the Apple Mail app across iPhone, Mac, and iPads as at the end of August 2021.

In South Africa, the number is much smaller as Apple has around 12% market share, and not all of those people will be using the Apple Mail app.

Emails using first-party data to enrich the customer experience

Where your subscribers open your emails doesn’t tell you the full impact of Apple’s privacy changes. That’s because mails that are received (not only opened, but actually received) in an Apple email client are affected. A common scenario is that a user sets up their email account in Apple’s Mail app, Gmail’s App, and also routinely makes use of the Gmail Web App. Even if the user rarely (or never) opens their email in the Apple Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection will still pre-load images because the email account was set up in Apple’s Mail app. In this case, a sender will see opens from Apple’s image proxy and Gmail’s image proxy.

According to Times Live the Private Relay features won’t be released in South Africa, China, Saudi Arabia and a handful of other countries for the foreseeable future.


Our goal as email marketers hasn’t changed. The goal is to reach our target audience by sending emails that recipients want to engage with. The way we measure this will adapt to new user and privacy-centric approaches.

What should I do?

Review automations: Automations that are triggered by email opens will need to be reworked.

Tag or segment your subscribers on Apple devices: Use existing data to segment your Apple users so you are able to view their behaviour separately from the rest of your mailing list.

Create awareness and reset expectations with your clients and managers about changes in the open and click-to-open rate metrics. Look at what other metrics are important as indicators of campaign performance for your key newsletters and email campaigns; list growth, unsubscribes and website/app analytics data will rightly become a higher priority in campaign reports.

Think about using SMS to work alongside your email campaigns. Yes, we know many people ignore SMS, but many people read their SMSes and respond too.


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