Apple’s recently announced Mail Privacy Protection has received much attention over the past few days. Continuing their product story of protecting consumer information, this announcement promises to hide your open behavior and IP address from those sending you emails. On its surface, it sounds like a big win for anyone with an inbox. We wrote about the implications for email marketers here.

But how will this actually affect the email you receive? The truth is, there’s a good chance that this will make your email experience worse, not better.

Email is different from apps

With iOS 14.5, Apple introduced their App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature, a precursor to this new Mail Privacy Protection feature. ATT gives users control over whether an app can track your activity across other apps on your phone. This data is often used to create a profile of you so that advertisers can target you better.

Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection is similar. It obfuscates email open data and your IP address, which are often used to target you better. But there is a key difference: you asked for those emails. You never asked for those ads.

This is a meaningful difference. If I’ve signed up to receive emails from a company, it’s because I like what they are doing and I want to hear from them. Their ability to hone their message in order to better speak to my needs is a huge plus for me. It means the content I receive is more relevant and I don’t get emails about things I don’t care about.

With ads, this doesn’t matter because I never wanted the ads in the first place. Blocking ad tracking serves the purpose of discouraging companies to serve me ads at all, which is a win for me. I don’t want more relevant ads; I want ads to go away entirely.

Let’s look at some practical examples of how this change will make your email experience worse.

Worse content with bad timing

Let’s get one thing straight first: for most companies, you opening an email does not impact their business in any way. No one gets paid when you open an email. Email marketers are much more concerned with clicks and conversions (when you actually pay them). So, in some ways, the industry is not too worried about opens going away.

However, eliminating open tracking means that marketers can’t see what you open or when you open it. That can have a lot of negative consequences for the recipient:

  • Less relevant content – Email marketers look at what you open and more importantly, what you don’t. They use that information to tailor content specifically for you. Do you always open emails about running shoes but never any about strength training? A savvy marketer will cut back on the strength training content and focus on your shoe obsession. That’s impossible if they can’t tell what you opened.
  • Less timely content – Good email marketers also pay attention to when you open. That gives them a good idea of when to send content your way and when to avoid. Once an email is 20 deep in your inbox, you’re a lot less likely to see it or open it. Marketers use your open time history to determine the best time to send to you so that you always see those awesome shoe deals at the top of your inbox.
  • Generic subject lines – Good marketers test their subject lines to see which ones are most likely to entice a recipient to open the email. Do you respond better to the name of a new shoe, or the promise of a discount? Subject line testing is almost always measured by open rate, and without those open numbers, subject lines will suffer.
  • More email overall – Marketers that don’t have a way to determine what content is best for you are going to default to sending you ALL of their content. The cost to send this content is low, and without a measure of the negative consequences of sending irrelevant content, more marketers will send you everything they have. That means a more cluttered inbox with a lot of content you don’t care about. Get ready to delete a lot of strength training emails!

No localized content

Many email marketers take advantage of knowing your IP address to give them an idea of where you are. With this knowledge, they can send you information about local events in your area, details about the weather around you and many other interesting details. This content is dynamic, and changes per recipient. Taking our earlier example, if you’re a runner that subscribes to my runner’s email, I can email you about races in your area, and even tell you what the weather is going to be like for this weekend’s 5K. Removing this IP address information means dynamic content is useless.

Does any of this matter?

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Will consumers care about losing the personalization of their emails? That answer is different for everyone, but this change will likely make all of the things you hate about marketing emails even worse. You’ll get less relevant content and more of it. Much of the curation being done to make your emails meaningful to you will become impossible.

Is there a better version of this feature?

Protecting our privacy and limiting the amount of information we provide to advertisers is important to many of us. Currently, solutions Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection provide blanket policies and binary choices around data sharing.

But the real issue isn’t about sharing your data. It’s about sharing your data indiscriminately and without our knowledge or consent. This is why the ATT was such a great idea. In most cases, people have no idea that their data is being shared across applications. It’s happening without their knowledge, and it’s enabling behavior that they’d rather not see. Email is different in that while many people don’t know that their opens and IP address are being shared, it’s enabling behavior they do want to see.

I envision a better version of Mail Privacy Protection that allows users to decide who to share their information with on a sender by sender basis. If I’m aware of what I’m sharing and what that information will be used for, I’m able to make responsible decisions. This is all about finding a balance between privacy and receiving the content you want when you want it.

What options do we have?

Until we reach that point, every email user has a decision to make: do you want more privacy or better content? Because of how this is currently implemented, you can’t have both. And from a marketer’s standpoint, having fewer data points to inform your sending decisions will make the job harder, without a doubt. This is yet another use-case where product leveraging a shared data pool, like ListFit, can be a game changer. When marketers across hundreds of brands anonymously share what they’re seeing in the inbox, we can create a rising tide notion for our industry to help both sender and consumers reach a healthy balance between privacy and valuable content.

**The addition of MPP also inadvertently creates some security issues for email as well. We’ll discuss that in our next post.