Apple Takes Steps to Safeguard “Fundamental Human Right” of Privacy

David Geithner
4 min readSep 1, 2021

In April, Apple’s iOS 14.5 had publishers and their advertisers scrambling with its App Tracking Transparency privacy feature. The new operating system required app developers to request users’ permission to track their activities. And some experts predicted publisher earnings would drop as much as 50 percent as a result.

Now, Apple is making changes to its mobile and desktop operating systems to put further pressure on marketers who use this medium to connect with their customers. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering who oversees Apple’s operating system engineering teams, announced the changes at the recent Worldwide Developer Conference. Federighi feels fully justified in the direction taken by Apple on user privacy, referring to privacy as a “fundamental human right.”

The changes are expected in the fall and will be rolled out with iOS 15 for iPhones and the macOS 12 Monterey update for Mac computers. There will be two features expected to impact marketers and users significantly; email opens by users will no longer be shared with senders, and a Hide My Email feature will generate random emails for users to bypass spam when registering on sites.

All Emails Will Look Opened

Email marketing currently relies on post-send analytics to determine future emails and campaigns. If used correctly, key metrics improve effectiveness (and ultimately ROI) and influence various aspects from messaging to design. Currently, each dollar spent on email advertising brings an average of $36 in return, according to a Litmus report.

One of the most commonly used metrics to measure customer engagement is whether an email is opened or not, or “open rates.” Marketers track this via invisible pixels embedded in the email. They are so small readers won’t notice them, but they trigger an image to be downloaded off a remote server, sending a message that the email has been opened.

Currently, Apple users account for almost half of all email open rates. But its privacy changes will mean every email will reflect as opened on receipt — vastly inflating open rates and rendering them useless for measuring engagement. Additionally, the changes will hide readers’ IP addresses and locations, meaning their post-reading activity can’t be monitored or traced to a particular geographic region.

“Hide My Email” Generates Random Email Accounts

The second significant change Apple is introducing is “Hide My Email,” which enable users to register on sites with randomly generated email addresses. This way, they can avoid having their real addresses sold to third parties and used for spam purposes. It will forward mail to your legitimate address, but will reduce the number of lists on which your actual address appears, and you can delete the alias addresses as you wish without impacting your own account. The feature is free for users who are already iCloud subscribers, but others will need to pay between $1 and $10 per month.

What Are Marketers Saying?

Most marketers aren’t too concerned about the “Hide My Email” feature. Their clients have typically “opted in” to emails because they want to engage with the brand. And their efforts are focused on keeping them engaged rather than “blasting” for lead generation.

In response to Apple’s move, some marketers point out that open rates were never entirely reliable in the first place. Some people read their mail on browsers that disregard images, and some set their preferences not to download images. For these readers, marketers will never know if and when they read their emails. And plenty of users click on mails to mark them as read without any intention of reading them.

Other marketers are saying the changes will significantly change how they market. It could even mean a switch to text messaging. However, that’s a very different medium, and messaging has to be far more personalized and targeted to avoid annoying customers with multiple unwanted texts. Plus, text messaging is a paid-for platform, so it’s unlikely to generate the same ROI.

More optimistic marketers see the changes as a way to focus on and improve their practices. Ashley Guttuso, director of marketing at Simple Focus, says advertisers will need to correlate sends to actions — something that should have been done in the first place. She says it will mean a return to real conversations with customers and prospects to understand what resonates. And it’s her opinion those conversations will teach marketers things email metrics never could.

Email formats may need to change, for example, to become more editorial than purely promotional. That’s because editorial content always got higher open rates. In addition, there may need to be more reliance on surveys and closer attention to site traffic on pages used in emails. To Guttuso’s way of thinking, it’s a case of understanding that just because something isn’t measurable doesn’t mean it’s not working.

Myles Kleeger, president of Braze, the customer engagement platform, says the changes will likely have the most impact on companies who monetize audiences based on email content. That’s because they frequently charge fees based on open rates. As a result, they might need to consider more regular “opt-in” triggers.

--

--

David Geithner

David Geithner is a senior finance executive who draws upon nearly three decades of experience to serve as EVP and COO, IMG Events and On Location.