How to adapt to Apple’s iOS 15 privacy changes

John Websell avatar
John Websell

Oct 19, 2021

Person holding a smartphone in front of their laptop

Apple’s iOS 15 update is here.

Announced during the Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2021, the iOS 15 update brings a host of new privacy features that give users more control over their email and browser data.

A step in the right direction for user privacy and data security, the update was met with trepidation among marketers as it became clear some of these new features would have a small, but noticeable impact on email marketing.

Apple’s new privacy features

These two new features need to be on every marketer's radar: Mail Privacy Protection and iCloud+.

Mail Privacy Protection

This optional feature stops email senders from collecting information on the recipient’s email activity – including open rates. Mail Privacy Protection also masks the recipient’s IP address to prevent activity tracking and conceal their location.

iCloud+

iOS 15 introduces a range of new premium features for iCloud+ subscribers, including Private Relay and Hide My Email.

Private Relay provides additional security and privacy for online browsing via a dual relay system. The first relay assigns the user an anonymous IP address. This is mapped to their region, not their specific location. The second decrypts the web address they want to visit before forwarding them to their destination. Essentially, this encrypts any data leaving the user’s device so no one – not even Apple or the user’s internet provider – can access it.

Hide My Email helps users keep their personal email addresses private. It lets them set up unique, random addresses that forward any messages they receive directly to their personal inbox. Users can create and delete as many addresses as they need, which means they have full control over who’s able to contact them.

Details of the other privacy features included in the update are available on the Apple website.

Read our guide to B2B email marketing here and start improving your email  marketing today.

Adapting to Apple's privacy changes

Email open rates

Apple iPhone is the world’s most popular email client, with a market share of 28%. If users choose to activate Mail Privacy Protection, email open rate metrics will become less reliable – but not for the reason you might think.

HubSpot notes that, as part of the iOS 15 update, Apple will automatically load tracking pixels on behalf of users – whether the recipient has opened an email or not. This will inflate your open rates on future sends and affect other processes that rely on open tracking.

And, by recording data from multiple, fake email accounts that in reality belong to the same person, Hide My Email could muddy the waters even further.

Thankfully, this isn’t as serious as it sounds. The iOS 15 update doesn’t affect click-tracking, so you can continue to measure engagement on your marketing emails accurately. Even if that wasn’t the case, email open rates aren’t as reliable as website visitors, revenue generated, and other key metrics when it comes to measuring inbound marketing success.

Behaviour tracking

IP masking and Private Relay could be of greater concern to marketers.

Apple’s IP masking functionality prevents the sender from learning the recipient’s IP address and, by extension, their location. In practical terms, this means you’ll only have access to generic user data, which is bad news for any email marketing tactics that rely on location data, such as time zone sends.

Private Relay could have similar implications for tracking browser activity on Safari. You can't collect third-party data on encrypted traffic, so it's harder to follow visitor journeys across your site. The only silver lining is that this will only apply to visitors who use Safari and have a paid iCloud+ subscription.

What can you do to adapt?

1. Don’t panic

Apple designed iOS 15 to strengthen data privacy by giving users more control over who has access to their data. It’s not about making life harder for marketers. The best thing you can do is continue delivering valuable content and engaging experiences that help build trust between you and your audience.

2. Set a new baseline

Approximately 30% of your audience use the iPhone email client, so you need to compensate for the gap this will leave in your open rate metrics. 

Review historical data to better understand typical open rates among iOS users and pay close attention to how your metrics change in the coming months. This will help you establish a new baseline for low, average, and high open rates post-update.

3. Broaden your scope

Rather than worrying about the data you can’t see, use the iOS 15 update as an opportunity to reconsider the way you measure the success of your marketing emails. Broaden your focus to include metrics that better reflect user engagement, such as:

  • Click-through rate
  • Traffic generated
  • Conversion rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Unsubscribes

Embrace the change

Major updates like iOS 15 always receive plenty of scrutiny. And it's likely that we'll see more data privacy changes in the future. But while iOS 15 will impact your ability to track certain activities, none of these features represents a barrier to success.

Don’t think of iOS 15 as a problem you must solve. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to refine and improve your approach to email marketing.

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