Field Report of Apple Mail Privacy Protection

Apple Mail Privacy Protection

It’s that time of year in the Apple cycle when the early beta’s of the major operating systems start coming out. Last month at WWDC21, we noted that the coming changes may signal the great open rate apocalypse.

Now that the developer beta has had a few versions and the public beta 1 has dropped, we’ve had time to play with the new version of Apple Mail, and specifically — Mail Privacy Protection.

After lifting up the hood, the results were… surprising.

When you first launch the new Mail App, the instructions are just as they’ve been on the first developer beta.

Apple clearly states:

Mail Privacy Protection works by hiding your IP address and loading remote content privately in the background, even when you don’t open the message. This makes it harder for senders to follow your Mail activity.

The splash screen Apple Mail greets you with, as in macOS Monterey Public Beta 1

By Apple’s definition here, we believed that all mail, regardless of mailbox provider, would start reporting 100% open rates for any mail going to their recipients who are tied into Apple Mail.

However, as we started testing sending emails to multiple inboxes we had linked to Apple Mail from a Campaign Refinery sandbox campaign, that is not the behavior we actually found.

Instead, an open was not recorded until the user actually loaded the message.

However, additional opens inside of Apple Mail later were not recorded. If this behavior holds, then platforms such as Campaign Refinery will be able to see if a contact ever opened an email – as well as the time stamp from when that initial open was.

*Note: This is still very much an early release beta, and behavior should almost certainly be expected to change between now and the official public release this fall.

What about clicks?

As expected, clicks still track just as they have before since the recipient still travels through a URL redirect that we can track and is unique to each user. This will be a very difficult thing for even the most privacy-focused browsers to abstract away, so for now, this should remain a safe harbor.

Analytics from quick macOS Monterey tests. Looks like business as usual.

And those countdown timers?

While the news so far about opens is a fantastic, if unexpected, surprise… Countdown timers are not quite as fortunate (but it’s not all bad news!)

The remote loading mechanism that Apple seems to be employing here does indeed do what we expected, more or less. Apple loads the countdown GIF to their servers, which then freezes the point in time of the countdown at that moment and then continues to reserve it to the recipient.

What’s still surprising here, and I assume is a symptom of how they are handling opens right now, is that the GIF snapshot is grabbed at the time of the initial open.

Thankfully, this means that the countdown should be pretty close to accurate on the first load, instead of being some arbitrary countdown from whenever Apple chose to remotely load the content.

This does, however, mean that on subsequent loads of the message, your countdown timer will appear to be ticking down, but it will be the short period of time (60 seconds for Campaign Refinery users) that it was originally captured as opposed to a freshly updated countdown relative to the actual deadline.

Countdown timers will be “okay” on initial load, but broken on opens 2+ in Apple Mail

Final notes from Public Beta 1

Again, just as a reminder, this is still early in the process, but we’ve been getting a LOT of questions about what these software changes will mean for email marketing come fall. We, like many others, took the wording by Apple to mean all open tracking on Apple Mail was going to be useless.

The key here is that.. it still might be a lot less useful when the fall comes! But as of right now, we can absolutely work within these bounds and still do what we need to sustain high deliverability across the major mailboxes.

You can rest assured that we will be continuing to monitor these updates for any significant changes in future betas as well as the final public release. It will be interesting to see if Apple really wants to burden itself with remote loading that much content even without user engagement, as that’s no small undertaking.

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