Newsletter publishers concerned Apple's Mail Privacy Protection will crater industry

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 9
As developers and businesses take stock of Apple's recently announced platform updates there is growing concern among publishers that a particular feature, Mail Privacy Protection, could collapse an entire industry.

Mail Privacy Protection


During Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote on Monday, the company unveiled Mail Privacy Protection, a new feature that effectively restricts email services or associated advertisers from collecting information about its users.

As explained by Apple in an ensuing WWDC session, emails can contain remote images that are used to collect analytics information; remote images that are opened and fetched from third-party servers leave a data trail exposing when, where and on what type of device an email was read.

As noted by Platformer's Casey Newton, the data gleaned from image fetching and other strategies is vital for marketers, newsletter publishers and other businesses based on an email distribution model. Email open rates offer insight into audience engagement and a campaign's overall effectiveness, information that, in some cases, translates into ad dollars.

Mail Privacy Protection decimates that dataset for Mail app users on iOS and Mac.

Exactly how Apple is accomplishing the feat is unclear, though the company claims its system masks user IP addresses, prevents senders from knowing when an email is opened and blocks data collection via invisible pixels. Some have posited that incoming mail is opened and screened by an intermediate server before the content is sent on to users.

Apple detailed the effectiveness of Mail Privacy Protection -- and offered a couched warning to publishers -- in an online WWDC session covering new iOS privacy tools.

"If you've been using remote images to measure the impact of your campaigns, there are a few changes to be aware of. Since mail content may be loaded automatically after delivery, the time of mail viewing will no longer be correct. And since that content is loaded without revealing people's IP addresses and without headers, the location and type of device reading the mail aren't revealed. And you'll see your emails as being opened regardless of if the user read it or not," said Garrett Reid, Apple privacy engineering specialist.

As noted by iOS 15 beta testers, users will have the chance to "Protect Mail activity" when first opening Apple's first-party app. The feature is also enabled by default in system settings.

As with App Tracking Transparency, Mail Privacy Protection will likely see high opt-in (or more accurately opt-out of third-party tracking) rates. Depending on who you ask, that could put a major dent in the ad-supported email business.

A Nieman Lab report on Tuesday broke down the potential ramifications of rolling out Apple's new feature.

"The most recent market-share numbers from Litmus, for May 2021, 93.5% of all email opens on phones come in Apple Mail on iPhones or iPads," writes Joshua Benson. "On desktop, Apple Mail on Mac in responsible for 58.4% of all email opens."

Ad-based newsletters might need to look for alternative analytics solutions, but Newton says the situation is not as dire for paid newsletters.

"Writers can triangulate reader engagement by plenty of metrics that are still available to them, including the views their stories get on the web, the overall growth of their mailing list, and -- most meaningful of all -- the growth of their revenue," Newton writes.

The impact Mail Privacy Protection will have on the industry -- if any -- should come into focus when iOS 15 and macOS Monterey launch this fall.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    foadfoad Posts: 706member
    Super happy about this feature. Practically speaking, emails are generating fewer opens in marketing scenarios anyways. People are overwhelmed and so are their inboxes. This is going affect my work but we are going to have to adapt and that is fine by me. 

    We need these conversations to be happening and even if Apple has business motives behind it, the bi-product is pressure on these industries to adapt. 
    PetrolDavebloggerblogBeatsAlex_Vwilliamlondonmacplusplusaderuttersdw2001davgregwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 22
    You shouldn't have built your industry on deception.
    PetrolDaveBeatsAlex_Vwilliamlondonmacplusplusdewmesdw2001davgregFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 22
    XedXed Posts: 979member
    This is one of my favorite features of this year's event and something I wished would get implemented for many years (although I admit I didn't know how it could be achieved with success). We simply didn't have much control over this outside disabling rich emails or not loading content which hampered the experience of email far too much. A part of me wishes to jump on the betas early specifically for this one feature.
    PetrolDaveBeatsAlex_Vwilliamlondonmacplusplusaderutterdavgregwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 22
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,833member
    It’s always bothered me that “Load Remote Images” defaulted to Yes/On when configuring new accounts in Mail, on all Apple platforms. For a company that more recently claimed to care about privacy, this seemed like a real boner of an error. Users had to remember to disable the feature and decipher which emails were at least safe, if even interesting, to load images.
    With iOS 15 that won’t seem to matter. Ahhhh… relief. Thank you, Apple.
    Publishers can perhaps partially mitigate their issues by including a “like” button, for users to express themselves and create a trackable action.

    For people who believe the default setting of Yes was best, there are ways to educate users during Mail configuration and/or to make the “load images” link in messages more prominent.
    edited June 9 PetrolDaveBeatsAlex_Vdewmedavgregwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 22
    citpekscitpeks Posts: 144member
    cpsro said:
    It’s always bothered me that “Load Remote Images” defaulted to Yes/On when configuring new accounts in Mail. For a company that more recently claimed to care about privacy, this seemed like a real boner of an error. Users had to remember to disable the feature and decipher which emails were at least safe, if even interesting, to load images.
    With iOS 15 that won’t seem to matter. Ahhhh… relief. Thank you. Apple.
    Publishers can perhaps partially mitigate their issues by including a “like” button, for users to express themselves and create a trackable action.

    Like the piece says, most people don't know about tracking pixels, and the typical user is more likely to notice and object to an email message that's broken because the images aren't automatically loaded.  That's why it has been the default.  Just like with ATT, Apple can't "break" things without giving the user some notice and asking them to consciously make that choice, or the user may think it's Apple's fault and turn on it instead.

    That said, I've long set mine to "off" and feel no sympathy for the advertising industry not its vampiric tactics.  Neither Apple nor users owes it a business model, or anything else.  Those in the industry should darned well that if informed consent is going to work again them and their tactics, then they were questionable from the start.  Stop playing the victim.
    BeatsAlex_VFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 22
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,434member
    Oh boo hoo! Apple customers don’t owe you their data. You still have the iKnockoff market to leech from. I heard they don’t mind!
    Alex_VwilliamlondonDogpersondavgregwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 22
    XedXed Posts: 979member
    cpsro said:
    It’s always bothered me that “Load Remote Images” defaulted to Yes/On when configuring new accounts in Mail, on all Apple platforms. For a company that more recently claimed to care about privacy, this seemed like a real boner of an error. Users had to remember to disable the feature and decipher which emails were at least safe, if even interesting, to load images.
    With iOS 15 that won’t seem to matter. Ahhhh… relief. Thank you, Apple.
    Publishers can perhaps partially mitigate their issues by including a “like” button, for users to express themselves and create a trackable action.
    I understand your reasons for not wanting it, but I think Apple made the correct choice over setting it up to default to offer incomplete mail content. If it was set to off I think more than likely people would assume that Mail was broken and would seek out a 3rd-party app that would not have that feature on (or at all) and also be tracking and selling your data via the app itself.

    Just as an experiment since it has been years since I've had to mess with Mail settings, I toggled the switch in settings and found that emails from local groups that are in no way nefarious were woefully incomplete with "Load remote content for messages" disabled.

    I'm glad Apple has a solid plan for increasing this aspect of privacy this year. I remember iTools's mac.com emails and then MobileMe's me.com emails would get copious amounts of spam—perhaps not as bad as Hotmail and other sites did, but they were far from what Gmail was offering users then. Today it seems like Gmail and iCloud mail push very little spam to me. I can count on one hand how many I get combined in a month. Hell, I get more random iMessage spam these days than I do email spam.
    mike1watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 22
    Complaints from companies who sign you up for newsletters without your expressed intent and permission, and then track your activities with their unwanted emails?

    Yeah, not feeling upset their industry will crater.

    Not. at. all. upset.
    aderuttersdw2001AlexMorellomike1davgregFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 22
    qwerty52qwerty52 Posts: 311member
    AI said: there is growing concern among publishers that a particular feature, Mail Privacy Protection, could collapse an entire industry. 

    It looks to me like: The police is taking strict measures against the crime, and the criminals immediately start complaining  that their industry is going to collapse
    williamlondonaderutterdavgregFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 22
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,698member
    Haven’t we all seen this movie before? 

    Personal computing and connectivity has simply evolved and become such an essential and integral part of our lives that all of these annoyances and violations of our personal space, large and small, are no longer tolerable. Apple is one of the few companies that recognizes that privacy and security are essential human rights that need to be protected. Apple’s initiatives are a source of light in a dark space. I have absolutely no sympathy for those who cannot survive the scrutiny of having a light cast on their current behaviors. 
    williamlondondavgregFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 22
    aderutteraderutter Posts: 461member
    This (and iCloud+) were easily the biggest positives from this years WWDC. Very happy. 
    dewmedavgregwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 22
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,625member
    Any industry that survives by stealing user data and then using it against the very users it stole from deserves to die. 
    williamlondonDogpersondavgregqwerty52FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 22
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,586member
    Complaints from companies who sign you up for newsletters without your expressed intent and permission, and then track your activities with their unwanted emails?

    Yeah, not feeling upset their industry will crater.

    Not. at. all. upset.
    Exactly.  This is an exceptionally deceptive practice.  The user does not give consent to have his or her data used like that.  We are talking about often unsolicited emails tracking activities conducted on a user's device.  

    It will collapse the spam email industry?  Cry me a river.  
    williamlondonmike1davgregauxioFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 22
    hammeroftruthhammeroftruth Posts: 1,051member
    Oh no! Those poor generic viagra companies will go out of business! 
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 22
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,759member
    I started using MailTrackerBlocker a few months ago. It seems to do something similar to what Apple is proposing. It is a Mail plugin.
    From the developer:

    "MailTrackerBlocker is a plugin (mailbundle) for the default Mail app built-in to macOS. Email marketers and other interests often embed these trackers in HTML emails so they can track how often, when and where you open your emails. This plugin labels who is tracking you and strips out spy pixels out of the HTML before display, rendering the typical advice of disabling "load remote content in messages" unnecessary.

    Browse your inbox privately with images displayed once again."


    https://apparition47.github.io/MailTrackerBlocker/




    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 22
    iadlibiadlib Posts: 74member
    You don’t need data from users to manipulate their behavior. Output quality content. If people like it, you’ll know. Conversely if they don’t like it, you’ll know. 
    williamlondonFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 22
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,405member
    So this works with all accounts accessed through Mail.app or just iCloud mail?  If all, that precludes an intermediate server being used for scanning unless Apple totally redirects IMAP and POP requests through their own servers first and then on the original.  Which I doubt they’d do. 

    FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 22
    XedXed Posts: 979member
    chadbag said:
    So this works with all accounts accessed through Mail.app or just iCloud mail?  If all, that precludes an intermediate server being used for scanning unless Apple totally redirects IMAP and POP requests through their own servers first and then on the original.  Which I doubt they’d do. 

    That's a great question.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 22
    nicholfdnicholfd Posts: 608member
    Xed said:
    cpsro said:
    It’s always bothered me that “Load Remote Images” defaulted to Yes/On when configuring new accounts in Mail, on all Apple platforms. For a company that more recently claimed to care about privacy, this seemed like a real boner of an error. Users had to remember to disable the feature and decipher which emails were at least safe, if even interesting, to load images.
    With iOS 15 that won’t seem to matter. Ahhhh… relief. Thank you, Apple.
    Publishers can perhaps partially mitigate their issues by including a “like” button, for users to express themselves and create a trackable action.
    I understand your reasons for not wanting it, but I think Apple made the correct choice over setting it up to default to offer incomplete mail content. If it was set to off I think more than likely people would assume that Mail was broken and would seek out a 3rd-party app that would not have that feature on (or at all) and also be tracking and selling your data via the app itself.

    Just as an experiment since it has been years since I've had to mess with Mail settings, I toggled the switch in settings and found that emails from local groups that are in no way nefarious were woefully incomplete with "Load remote content for messages" disabled.

    I'm glad Apple has a solid plan for increasing this aspect of privacy this year. I remember iTools's mac.com emails and then MobileMe's me.com emails would get copious amounts of spam—perhaps not as bad as Hotmail and other sites did, but they were far from what Gmail was offering users then. Today it seems like Gmail and iCloud mail push very little spam to me. I can count on one hand how many I get combined in a month. Hell, I get more random iMessage spam these days than I do email spam.
    How do you know the e-mails from local groups were not nefarious?  Many group mailings use a service.  Those services do data tracking.  If they are using a service, there is probably tracking.  Looks at the raw data of the e-mail (if you know how) - I bet you'll find it.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 22
    XedXed Posts: 979member
    nicholfd said:
    Xed said:
    cpsro said:
    It’s always bothered me that “Load Remote Images” defaulted to Yes/On when configuring new accounts in Mail, on all Apple platforms. For a company that more recently claimed to care about privacy, this seemed like a real boner of an error. Users had to remember to disable the feature and decipher which emails were at least safe, if even interesting, to load images.
    With iOS 15 that won’t seem to matter. Ahhhh… relief. Thank you, Apple.
    Publishers can perhaps partially mitigate their issues by including a “like” button, for users to express themselves and create a trackable action.
    I understand your reasons for not wanting it, but I think Apple made the correct choice over setting it up to default to offer incomplete mail content. If it was set to off I think more than likely people would assume that Mail was broken and would seek out a 3rd-party app that would not have that feature on (or at all) and also be tracking and selling your data via the app itself.

    Just as an experiment since it has been years since I've had to mess with Mail settings, I toggled the switch in settings and found that emails from local groups that are in no way nefarious were woefully incomplete with "Load remote content for messages" disabled.

    I'm glad Apple has a solid plan for increasing this aspect of privacy this year. I remember iTools's mac.com emails and then MobileMe's me.com emails would get copious amounts of spam—perhaps not as bad as Hotmail and other sites did, but they were far from what Gmail was offering users then. Today it seems like Gmail and iCloud mail push very little spam to me. I can count on one hand how many I get combined in a month. Hell, I get more random iMessage spam these days than I do email spam.
    How do you know the e-mails from local groups were not nefarious?  Many group mailings use a service.  Those services do data tracking.  If they are using a service, there is probably tracking.  Looks at the raw data of the e-mail (if you know how) - I bet you'll find it.
    I don't consider the blanket notion of tracking as being a nefarious action. Do you consider Apple nefarious? I don't, just as I don't consider mailers I've subscribe to nefarious simply because they or a service they use want analysts on who's reading their content. What I consider nefarious unsolicited spam, scams, and worse.
    justmarkwatto_cobra
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