August 25, 2021

iOS 15 Update: Mail Privacy Protection

Photo of young Asian man looking at his iPhone

Executive Summary
In the fall of 2021, a new Apple software update will be available for installation on Apple devices, impacting users with an iPhone 6S or newer, iPad air 2 or newer, iPad 5th generation or newer, all iPad pros, MacBook 2015 or newer, and iMac 2015 or newer. This update, iOS 15, will have notable changes regarding user privacy preferences, which is a shift from prior updates focusing on user experience and interface changes. Updates to the Apple Mail app will allow users to change their privacy settings and allow Apple to hide their data in emails. While this is a big step in the ongoing movement toward protecting consumer privacy, there is increased attention to its impact on email marketing. In this POV, we evaluate the potential impact to the email channel and opportunities to continue to deliver ethical, quality email experiences and personalization for pharma customers, including healthcare providers (HCPs) and patients.

As consumers become more technologically advanced, and the use (and misuse) of consumer data becomes more prolific, there is a desire to have more transparency and guardrails around the availability of one’s information and data online. There has been exponential growth in user concerns in recent years and, as a result, companies are addressing these concerns and becoming increasingly transparent about how they use consumer data. At the governmental level, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) – which will be replaced by the California Privacy Rights Act in 2023 – the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA), the Colorado Privacy Act (CPA), and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), have been passed to ensure the privacy of their residents over the past few years, showing there will be lasting changes and measures to protect consumer privacy and ensure transparency in the use of data.

Although the mainstream story around user privacy concerns may have started with the barrage of news headlines highlighting data breaches and examples of personal consumer data being leveraged in unexpected ways, the conversation has evolved in recent years. What started as a move to protect personal data and privacy from Big Tech has grown into a larger initiative placing consumers at the center of owning their experience and controlling data access. Sessions and panels at SXSW have changed from “User Privacy in a Post Cambridge Analytica World” to “Forging a New Social Contract for Big Tech” and “Building Digital Trust in a Transformed World.” Companies are realizing that there is a responsibility to lead with ethics in order to build trust and generate an authentic connection where consumers are willing to share information to improve their experience.

In terms of scale, there are 113 million iPhone users in the United States alone.

Apple is one of these companies and is addressing user privacy concerns head-on. In 2019, during the iOS 14 launch, Apple introduced their app tracking technology to help combat concern over tracking users’ data within applications. Apple users have the option to turn on this feature in their device settings. Approximately 4% of iPhone users in the United States have actively chosen to opt into app tracking after updating their device to iOS 14.5, which means that 96% of iPhone users do not allow apps to track their activity. We also anticipate rapid adoption: Four months after the launch of iOS 14, 81% of iPhones from the past five years had been updated to the latest version, and at seven months post-launch, 90.45% of iPhone users had updated their devices. Despite these metrics, we are not seeing the impact on apps offering advertising services. Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) all increased quarter-over-quarter revenue, with some citing a lower impact from app tracking technology than originally anticipated.

With the upcoming iOS 15 launch planned for September, Apple is adding to its privacy measures with mail privacy protection software enhancements. Like Apple’s iOS 14 update in 2019 with app tracking, Apple Mail users will be able to restrict sharing of Mail engagement data to senders. If opted into, pixel-based activity within the Mail app will be hidden, which will prevent data collection on pre-click activity and mask the user’s IP address. Apple will load all images when emails are first sent, with the intent of protecting email openers from disclosing information about the timing of their opens and/or if they even open the email at all. As a result, tracking open rates, geo-location, and real-time content personalization such as countdown timers, for example, will no longer be available for those users. While this is a step toward placing data control in the hands of the end user, it will require change and innovation in email marketing and the mechanisms by which email is sent to consumers.

The new privacy feature is only for Apple Mail, and therefore will not affect other mail apps on Apple devices, such as Gmail or Outlook apps. However, if users sign into their Gmail account or Outlook account via the Apple Mail client, these users will be impacted by the iOS 15 updates. As this update is limited to Apple Mail, Android and other non-Apple iPhone users will not be affected.

For Apple iPhone users, mail privacy protection will be easy to enable, either by accepting a prompt in the Mail app immediately following update installation, or in Settings any time after the update is completed. The selection language also leads users to opt in: They will have the choice between “protecting their mail activity” or “not protecting their mail activity.”

In terms of scale, there are more than 113 million iPhone users in the United States alone. According to an analysis done by Litmus on nearly three billion mobile email opens worldwide, 38.9% were opened in the iPhone Apple email client. This makes Apple Mail the most widely used mobile email client in the market, with its closest competitor being Gmail at 27.2%. Apple Mail’s large market share and iOS 15 rollout will impact how emails are sent and how data is gathered.

Although this update makes great strides to expand user data privacy controls, it also will cause senders to consider changes to email marketing efforts. These impacts boil down to three categories for addressing the Apple Mail audience: deployment, personalization, and measurement.

Email cadences that incorporate logic based on email opens (e.g., to trigger a resend or next send) would need to be reconfigured to automate without open analytics specifically for Apple Mail users opted into mail privacy protection. Although a challenge, this change does not negate the benefit of driving engagement. For one Intouch client, emails sent based on a recent open of a similar email message garnered a 60% average open rate. If the strategy was solely to rely on post-click engagement metrics such as clicks or on-site MVAs (most valuable actions), the total count of those who would qualify for the experience could be low. In addition to these barriers, send-time optimization would become inaccurate for those who monitor and evolve based on day of week or time of day emails are being opened.

We know that personalization can increase the impact of emails sent to pharma customers, including HCPs and patients, as shown by increases in conversion rate and influence by a factor of six. We also know, in the Americas, the top channel preference to drive awareness and product updates among HCPs is marketing emails at 72%. The result? Email to HCPs and patients will not be going away anytime soon; and the iOS 15 update will not slow the development of personalized experiences in email.

We understand that personalization reliant on IP address data, such as countdown timers, geo-located weather or locations, would be inaccurate for those who opted into Mail Privacy Protection. However, personalization in dynamic content modules will not change with iOS 15, as they are not based on opens. As the data privacy landscape shifts, evaluate personalized experiences such as text across channels, and leverage owned data the consumer has shared to ensure engaging, tailored interactions can continue.

Measurement & Optimization
Email opens will no longer be as informative in email analytics due to incomplete data collection. For those using iOS 15’s mail privacy protection feature, open rates will likely show at 100%. Open rates are currently a core performance metric for subject line and email content performance; therefore, this will require senders to use alternative approaches to evaluate success for Apple Mail users. Additionally, users who switch between Apple Mail and other clients, such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, will present challenges to marketers trying to separate data due to the loss of device identification. Lastly, marketers will be blocked from receiving forward tracking data. For example, if a subscriber forwards an email to another email address, the sender will not receive any tracking information on the forward.

Email to HCPs and patients will not be going away anytime soon; and the iOS 15 update will not slow the development of personalized experiences in email.

Intouch’s Recommendations
There is potential for iOS 15 to impact campaigns based on pre-click metrics for mobile devices as we continue to place the rightful ownership of consumer data in the hands of the consumer. To assess the impact and combat any potential data gaps, marketers should revisit their ongoing campaigns prior to the release of iOS 15. Consider taking the following steps to ensure continued email success:

  1. Identify the impact on your campaigns.
    What is the volume of your current audience that is an Apple Mail user? There is a chance this update will have a negligible effect on your email marketing or analytics if the scale is minimal.

  2. Create audience segments based on current email target lists to group those who utilize Apple Mail. This creates an opportunity to curate an alternative experience and better analyze performance data for these users.

  3. Establish revised business rules around email marketing and analytics. Consider:
    ~ Analyze performance with a new approach. Segment out Apple Mail users from pre-click reporting and consider adding click metrics such as click-through rate or on-site MVA engagement rate, which will not be restricted as part of this update and will enhance the overall brand engagement story.

    ~ Reconfigure email cadence logic for Apple Mail users to be based on alternative methods if currently based on pre-click metrics.

  4. Collect data and learnings prior to iOS 15 rollout in September, for example:
    ~ Test creative to understand what is most compelling to audiences. Continue to send emails with elements that are known to drive engagement. After iOS 15 launch, consider testing subject lines/super subject lines and email creative on non-Apple Mail users prior to launching creative across your entire target audience.

    ~ Perform analysis on target lists to identify top engagers and continue to send to those individuals despite any data changes that may be seen in the future.

    ~ Consider leveraging tracking pixels in the interim and gather and use this data to get a baseline. Getting these base statistics can make the transition to other tracking metrics easier and more streamlined.

  5. Place data-sharing control in the hands of the consumer and educate them on why and how that data will be used.
    ~ 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience. We expect users will be less likely to opt in for decreased data utilization if they understand the connection between data and personalization. Explore adding verbiage on a registration thank-you page and/or email headers asking users believed to be using Apple Mail to check their settings to receive the most personalized experience.

    ~ First-party data collection will provide claimed data from the consumer, informing and filling potential data gaps such as preference on time of day/day of week and geo-location.

  6. Follow CAN-SPAM sending best practices, including opt-in and opt-out and notifying consumers about the nature of the emails, to ensure your target list remains healthy.

  7. Stay educated on privacy updates! As noted, this is a user concern that is here to stay, and regulation has just begun. The changing landscape may have a future impact on your campaigns.

There is potential for iOS 15 to impact campaigns as we continue to place the rightful ownership of consumer data in the hands of the consumer.

Customer centricity is a core tenet of modern marketing, and a key consideration for Intouch as we lead in crafting best-in-class experiences for our clients and their customers. When the consumer is at the center of strategy, we can provide relevant experiences for our HCPs and patients, while protecting consumer privacy and being transparent in the use of data. The consumer is empowered to control and own their information, and marketers are responding by prioritizing the collection of first-party data in the wake of data privacy changes.

With iOS 15, mail privacy protection will provide users with the option for additional privacy around how their email engagement data is being shared with senders. As concerns over data privacy grow, it is expected more changes to privacy settings will occur; but for now, we must adapt to the current update and how to best serve consumers and HCPs. While the full impact of this change is unknown, it is important to take the necessary steps to continue delivering personalized, meaningful experiences in a thoughtful way to combat any potential data loss. By preparing and gathering data prior to the mail privacy protection feature rollout, senders can be prepared for September, and future, updates.©Intouch Group 2021

Author: Devon Cross, Director, CX Strategy
Consulting Partners: Julia Osmond, Sr. CX Strategist; Carol Wilbeck, Campaign Management Team Lead; Jackie Sallaz, Tagging Solutions Engineer; Angela Ornce, Senior Director, Media Operations; Sophie Abrams, CX Intern

Want to learn more?
Contact Tracy Kossler, SVP, CX Strategy, Intouch Group