Data privacy and the role of email marketing

Jun 17, 2021 | Best practice, Data privacy, Email marketing

Here are two recent changes in the data privacy space the impact the role of email marketing. 1) Third-party data is going away soon and 2) the Apple iOS 15 will give users more data privacy options which will make the open rate a useless email marketing metric.

Melaina Gross

Updated October 2021

There are some recent changes in the data privacy space that I’d like to talk about along with the role of email marketing.

Third-party data is going away soon. Firefox and Safari already did away with third-party cookies and Google Chrome is doing the same in 2022. I’ll talk a bit more about third-party data and what this means for email marketing in a moment.

The second development is the bomb Apple dropped on us last week in an announcement that their iOS15 update will give users more data privacy options – that of turning off the tracking of email opens in the Apple native email clients. This change will make the open rate a useless email marketing metric.

Third-party data vs the power of the data you own

What is third-party data?

Third-party data is data from tracking not owned by the website you visited that is used after you’ve left the session. It’s the cookie in your browser that picks up that you looked at a particular product and that presents you with that same product while you browse other websites. It’s this third-party cookie that enables marketers to remarket to you.

What is first-party data?

This is the data you, as a marketer, have worked hard to own. It’s data you’ve gathered about your prospects and customers – their email address, purchases, interests, address, birthday, and so on. This data is sitting in your Customer Relationship Management systems.

The email marketing channel makes use of first-party data very well. So does SMS and getting users to download your app so you can send them push notifications.

This means that we marketers need to consider the data we already have about our customers, and how we can use it to create better and more compelling customer experiences.

Emails such as milestone emails, goal-tracking emails, and emails that use purchase data points (the data and product that was purchased) are good examples of where first-party data is used to enrich the customer experience.

Watch this 30-minute webinar to learn more

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Emails using first-party data to enrich the customer experience

This is how the privacy protection feature will be presented to all iOS 15 users:

Apple mail privacy protection

Image source: Ryan Jones on Twitter.

Now for the Apple iOS 15 Mail Privacy Protection feature

According to Apple: “Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. [It prevents] senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.”

The implication for email marketing is that the number of email opens reported will be affected: the number of opens will be higher than the reality because Apple appears to be loading the tracking pixels via relay or proxy for users that have opted into privacy. This effectively translates to reporting an email open when it may not have been opened in reality. You won’t be able to discern these false opens from real ones.

Marketers can’t rely on open rate as an indicator of list health or engagement for much longer.

In early testing by Sparkpost, email click tracking does not appear to be affected, so this metric may still be useful to marketers.

Impact of iOS 15 Update On Open Tracking

This update is expected to become available between September and November.

Initially I posted that the Mail Privacy Protection feature would not be available in South Africa. It is in fact the Private Relay feature that won’t be available. Read more about the differences in this detailed post.


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