6 Things To Know About Apple’s Fall 2021 Email Privacy Update

Your Email Marketing Strategy May Need A Reboot
The Impact of Apple’s UPCOMING Email Privacy Update

Brought to you by the FCB Health CRM Engagement Planning team

“Privacy has been central to our work at Apple from the very beginning,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “Every year, we push ourselves to develop new technology to help users take more control of their data and make informed decisions about whom they share it with. This year’s updates include innovative features that give users deeper insights and more granular control than ever before.”

(Apple Press Release, June 7, 2021)

There has been much concern over Apple’s iOS15 updates that will go live in fall of 2021. Email marketers are concerned about the value of open rates in their measurement plans and the overall quality of the data that supports their programs.

So, let’s break this down to figure out what the impact of this update will be to you and what we can do about it.

Summary Of Changes To iOS15

Apple will be rolling out 3 data privacy features between September and November 2021 that will:

  • Render tracking pixels useless. These Pixels alert email marketers when a subscriber opens an email.
  • Utilize a feature called “Private Relay” To hide IP addresses so it can’t be used to determine other online activity or used to determine a subscriber’s location.
  • Utilize a feature called “Hide my Email” To share “unique, random” email addresses that will forward emails to their personal inbox. Subscribers will be able to simply delete these email addresses to control who can contact them.

How Will It Work*?


  • When the subscriber’s Apple Mail app starts up, it triggers a download of the email to their device from the sender’s web host or email service provider (ESP).
  • At that time, and generally before the email is read, Apple caches all of the images in the email, creating a copy of the images to a new location on the Apple Privacy Cache with an IP address assigned to the general region of the subscriber instead of their specific geolocation**.
  • This caching process requires Apple to request the images from the ESP server—including the open tracking pixel—which makes the ESP think the email has been opened.
  • If the subscriber actually opens the email, it triggers a request to download and display the email’s images, but instead of coming from the sender’s web host or ESP server, they’re coming from the Apple Cache. So, senders are still left in the dark.

*Source: Apple Privacy

** Litmus testing showed that subscribers must be connected to a wireless network with the Mail app running in the background for this to happen.

Is This Going To Be A Default Setting For Apple Users?

Like Apple’s App Tracking Transparency tool, Mail Privacy Protection will require users to make a choice, not added by default.

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Selection Screen

Currently, only 4% of iOS users have opted into ad tracking (Apple Ad Tracking)

96% of IOS Users Opted Out of Ad Tracking

How Many Users Are We Talking About?

Top 10 email clients (per Google in 2021)

Top 10 Email Clients

About 28% of all mobile email opens happen on iPhones, and an additional 9% come from Apple’s iPad.

Effects On Email Marketing – 3 main areas impacted

  • Reporting
    • When a user opens an Apple mail application, all images in every email in their inbox will be downloaded to Apple servers regardless of whether they actually open a specific email. When an image is downloaded, email marketing platforms count an email as opened.
      • This will lead to an inflated Apple Mail open rate of 75% (not 100% because emails are not always cached) –estimated by LitmusAn inflated Apple Mail open rate of 75% (not 100% because emails are not always cached) –estimated by Litmus
      • Click to Open rates, a useful metric to determine the effectiveness of content and creative, will decrease as opens are artificially inflated
  • List Hygiene
    • Inability to properly scrub lists for inactivity leading to sender score deliverability issues for senders
    • Subscribers will continue to receive unwanted communications that marketers may not have sent them if they knew they were inactive
  • Segmentation/Testing/Targeting
    • Any segmentation or cadence based off open date will be useless because the open will be whenever a contact opens their mail app and not based on when they actually opened the email (if they did at all) – this includes non-opener resends as a large % of non-openers will not be included in the resend
    • Any A/B tests that rely on open rates to determine winners will be ineffective – subject lines, time of day, etc
    • Send time optimization will be inaccurate
    • Partners like Movable Ink, that harness real time personalization, will no longer be accurate
    • Countdown timers, weather, geolocation

A Few Solutions

While we follow the top CRM platform companies to see how they will enhance their platforms to accommodate this change in reporting, we’ve come up with some solutions…

  • Reporting
    • To properly measure success, recalibrate open rate benchmarks and CTOR benchmarks over time to align with higher # of opens.
    • Pivot to other metrics to define success. Until we understand the overall effect of these changes, open rates will no longer be a viable metric.
    • Utilize clicks to gain insight into how well messaging is resonating with the audience and dive deeper by using UTM parameters to drive down into what Email visitors are doing on site.
      • UTM parameters are unique values that you can assign to emails that will help you track the success of a specific campaign with regards to backend site data – sessions, average time on site, pageviews per visit, etc.
  • List Hygiene
    • Get ahead of the changes and do any segment hygiene or list scrubs before the updates take place
    • Once the Apple updates take place relying on opens to determine deliverability issues may no longer be an option
    • Ensure sender reputation scores are high because there will likely be issues once these changes take effect – it will be beneficial to start with a high baseline
    • Silver lining – marketers will now have a confirmation that email addresses are at least valid because if an email is “opened” by Apple mail then it is valid contact information
  • Segmentation/Testing/
    • Create segments that break up our audience by engagement recency before the Apple updates are made
    • Heavy up on testing in advance of the updates so that we can glean as much information as possible regarding the tendencies of our audience – subject line preference, time of day preference, etc.
    • For testing going forward rely on other metrics to determine success. Use CTR and site data to make directional decisions on how well a subject line resonated with an audience
    • We will monitor CRM platforms to see how they react to the Apple privacy changes and implement new solutions as they become available