iOS 15 data privacy feature - the impact on your email marketing strategy


What changed?


Apple’s iOS 15 update has three important features that will affect email marketing. Starting September 2021, iOS users can turn off open rate tracking, block their IP address, and hide their email address.


According to Apple, the Mail Privacy Protection “stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user.” Users who choose the "Protect Mail activity" option will have Apple send all e-mails through a proxy server where images and message content are preloaded before the emails are delivered to the user's inbox. However, the features will not be turned on by default as users will have to actively choose their setting. Judging by the launch of iOS 15 and what the trend of iOS 14 is showing, almost 96% of Apple users are expected to opt out of data tracking.



Is email marketing dead?


Companies will see an artificially high open rate since all emails in Apple Mail will appear to have been opened, even if the readers did not open them themselves. Does this mean companies will have to stop email marketing?

Not necessarily, if marketers learn how to pivot their email marketing strategies. Rather than focusing on open rates, specialists will need to adapt and look at other metrics such as click data, active on-site, and placed orders. Another great strategy to implement would be to find new marketing channels like SMS and push notifications.



Behaviour tracking


The IP masking feature is also a great concern for marketers. This functionality protects recipients by not allowing the sender to learn their IP address and location. As a result, companies will only have access to basic user data, which won't help with marketing strategies that require location information, such as time zone sends.


Similarly, the Private Relay feature means that companies will no longer be able to collect third-party data on encrypted traffic. The good news here is that both Private Relay and IP masking will only be available to users who use Safari and have a paid iCloud+ subscription.



Embrace the change


Companies have relied on 3rd parties for their consumer insights for too long, and recent changes are making them reconsider. The iOS 15 data privacy feature is one of the threats to this operating model, along with the previous cross-app advertising ID limitations of iOS 14, and future alterations to 3rd party cookies, like Google’s upcoming Federated Learning of Cohorts (or FLoC). Given the trends, companies should start focusing on first-party data, which they have full access to and can make use of within the boundaries of privacy laws like EU’s GDPR.


Setting up their own data collection strategy is something that most players have probably hoped they would never have to do, but now is the time to get started in order to remain in front of the wave. The best starting point is mapping the customer journey and starting to log all interactions with first-party channels (like the website and app). Behavioral - or click-stream - data capturing, and a basic data warehouse are the best place to start.


Applying all this to the iOS 15 privacy updates, a good strategy would be to include first-party-driven metrics that reflect the user engagement such as the CTR, traffic, bounce rates, and unsubscribes.



Content for a more private world


Despite Apple Mail and Apple mobile devices holding over 35% of the global email provider market share, Google and Outlook have not announced similar privacy measures. The iOS 15 privacy update is not the first nor the last announcement that has and will impact digital marketers, but that does not mean that companies cannot continue to innovate on their strategies and their content.