A Guide to Apple Mail Privacy Protection

Mar 15, 2023

Apple announced and released Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) for some users in 2021.

Right now, all new versions of Apple’s Operating Systems have built-in MPP protocols across iOS, iPadOS, MacOS, and WatchOS. To understand how it impacts both the sender and the recipient, first, we need to properly understand what mail privacy protection is concerning Apple’s new privacy protocols.

What is Mail Privacy Protection (MPP)?

Mail privacy protection is an optional setting under Privacy that Apple has recently added to the Apple Mail native client application. When a user turns on Mail Privacy Protection (MPP), it will immediately stop all senders from gaining access to the recipient’s online information by masking their original IP address. As a result, senders, aka third parties, will not be able to access accurate information regarding:

  • When the recipients opened their emails.
  • Where the recipient was geographically located when they opened their emails.
  • What the recipients did online soon after opening the emails.

Is Mail Privacy Protection Mandatory for Users?

Mail privacy protection protocols do not activate automatically on any Apple device. MPP is a setting that the user can choose to turn on or off, depending on their preferences. However, users will be asked whether they wish to turn MPP on while setting up their Apple Mail client on any new Apple device. Furthermore, users will continue to have the option to turn mail privacy protection on or off later from settings.

Can Any Apple User Turn on Mail Privacy Protection?

While users are not limited based on their classification as a business class or consumer class customers, not all customers will get the option to turn on MPP. To activate mail privacy protection, users must own an iPhone, iPad, MacBook/Mac, or Apple Watch that’s at least running iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, or WatchOS 8, respectively. As you should be able to tell already, all Apple devices running later versions of the mentioned Operating Systems will also have the option to turn on mail privacy protection.

Although Apple is well appreciated for providing long-term OS updates, several old but active Apple devices are in the market now, which will never be updated to any previous OS versions. Therefore, all Apple users will be unable to toggle MPP on unless everyone decides to upgrade to a newer Apple device. At the same time, anyone with a relatively recent Apple smart device should be able to update their OS and turn on MPP. The fact that owning a more recent model helps minimize potential technical issues on the device, in addition to enabling the MPP, ought to be enough to persuade users to upgrade.

Which iPhones Have Apple iOS 15 Mail Privacy Protection?

Any iPhone model running iOS 15 or later will have the MPP option by default. Expect iPhones older than the iPhone 7 not to receive an upgrade to iOS 15 or any later iOS versions. That puts all iPhones as old as or older than the iPhone 6s out of the picture. However, there is a better way to be sure whether Apple iOS 15 mail privacy protection is available for a particular model.

Go to Settings > General > About > Software Version to check whether it runs on iOS 15 or later. If it shows that your iPhone’s OS is older than iOS 15, go back a step and Tap on Check for Updates. If the prompt shows no update is available, then the Apple iOS 15 mail privacy protection options will never be available on that iPhone.

If the prompt shows that an update is available, download and install the package first. After the installation is complete, check the Software Version once again to see if the iOS version has changed to 15 or later. If it didn’t change to iOS 15 even after the update, then the Apple mail privacy settings are not applicable for that device. If the iOS version is upgraded to iOS 15 (or later), go to Settings > Mail first, and then look under Messages to see the Privacy Protection option. Tap on it and choose Protect Mail Activity to turn on/off Apple iOS 15 mail privacy protection on the iPhone.

Do All Email Clients On iPhones Now Have Apple iOS 15 Mail Privacy Protection?

It’s a common misconception that Apple iOS 15 mail privacy protection extends to all email clients on an iPhone running iOS 15. Apple iOS, 15 mail privacy protection is limited exclusively to Apple’s native Mail client application. In fact, that’s not just true for iPhones but all other Apple devices as well.

Apple mail privacy protection is limited to the Mail client, even on Macs, MacBooks, iPads, and Apple Watches. No third-party email client installed on an Apple device will be protected by their mail privacy protection protocols. For example, if someone is using the Gmail app, turning the mail privacy protection setting on or off will have zero impact on any emails accessed via the Gmail app.

On the other hand, if the same user turns on mail privacy protection and uses the native Mail client to access mails in their Gmail account, all MPP protocols will apply. This will also remain true for other third-party mail accounts as long as they are accessed via Apple Mail. Each email accessed via the Apple Mail app will remain mostly untraceable.

How Does Apple Mail Privacy Protection Affect Senders?

Assuming that a recipient has their mail privacy protection on and is using Apple Mail as their primary email client, it limits the deliverability and marketing potential of emails for the sender. To be more precise, every email that reaches the recipient will be immediately marked as opened, irrespective of whether the recipient actually opens the email. Therefore, if 100 emails in a year are sent to the recipient from the mail list, the sender will be shown that the recipient has opened each and every one of the emails. Even if they did not even open one, the key performance indicator would still show a 100% open rate beside the recipient.

If a recipient opens the same email twice or more, no additional notifications will be given to the sender. This means the KPI will show that the recipient had opened 100% of their 100 emails, but only once. It is not hard to imagine how such inaccurate information can render open rates as a KPI completely irrelevant. The issue becomes even more evident if we consider the greater implications regarding how these effects of mail privacy protection would negatively impact any chances of accurate and actionable data collection from email marketing.

Well-timed emails with relevant, customised offers that are in line with the recipient subscriber’s immediate interests are an incredibly successful tool for improving conversion rates. Therefore, the most significant negative impact that Apple iOS 15 mail privacy protection brought with it for marketers is the feature’s ability to block marketers from knowing when the recipient opened the email and from which location. It makes data collection and customer profile creation difficult if:

  • The data comes from an iPhone or any other Apple device with MPP turned on.
  • The user is accessing all their emails via the Apple Mail app.

Is there a Way Around Apple Mail Privacy Protection for Marketers?

Although MPP activation can indeed limit the reliability of open rate metrics, there are other ways to track email open rates with better accuracy. For example, mail privacy protection does not hide the user’s click rate, allowing marketers to accurately track click rates on the links embedded in the emails. In most cases, click rates or click-through rates have always served as a better indicator of genuine interest than plain open rates. In that respect, MPP can at least help marketers find more genuine leads.

Therefore, if the marketer’s email validation and verification service can track click rates, gathering more accurate open rates and engagement rates is still possible. Note that this holds strong even when the target user has MPP and solely uses Apple mail as their email client. Practically, a good percentage of users on any business email list do not use Apple Mail as their only email client.

There is also the option to filter out or separate the email open notifications from any recipient with their mail privacy protection turned on. It’s a reliable method to preserve the accuracy of open rates, thus bringing relevance back to open rate reports. Note that in order to filter out automatic open notifications from devices with MPP on, the sender’s email validation service provider must have support for the feature first.

By now, it should be clear that Apple’s mail privacy protection has changed things to at least some degree for email marketers. Nevertheless, with the help of click tracking and AI-powered smart open rate segmentation, email marketers are still getting around the problems. Unfortunately, location, time, and multiple open rate tracking are no longer available for marketers if the recipient has mail privacy protection turned on and accesses their mails via Apple Mail.

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