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Current State of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection: Webinar Recording + Q&A


Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) went into effect in September 2021. With a few months behind us, how did it really affect email marketing?

April Mullen (Director of Brand & Content at SparkPost) and John Stephenson (Vice President Deliverability Services at Epsilon) joined us for a panel discussion about the current state of MPP, hosted by Cynthia Price (VP of Marketing at Litmus).

Watch the webinar recording below, and read on for answers to some of your top questions related to MPP.

How has MPP impacted email marketing?

John: Apple has made a few changes, but I think the one that we get the most questions about is what they’ve done with the open rate. Originally they made this proclamation, “Hey, we’re blocking opens.” But what they’re essentially doing is overloading the reporting with too many opens.

Most people’s reporting will show that open rates fly up. How we’re actually doing it: We’re not counting those MPP opens as open, so our open rate has actually gone down (that data is retrievable).

But it’s really changed the meaning of “the open”. I think “the open” has been the one, single go-to metric—sort of the default performance metric that people used across platforms. Everybody knew what it meant. It was always good enough and easily attainable.

It really has caused everybody to question: What does the open rate mean? What metrics should I be evaluating, and in what kind of ratio should I be looking at performance of lists, audience, and all those things?

First and foremost, it’s raising a lot of questions about how we should be reviewing our campaign performance and audience engagement.

April: I agree with everything that John said. You raise a good point John—it’s gating the reporting that comes back. But it really depends on the provider you’re using, on how they’re doing it.

So Epsilon, you say you’re backing out of the open, so your open rate is going down. At SparkPost, we’re actually giving people a variety of ways to look at it. If it’s an MPP open, they can parse that out. If they want it to be included as an open, great. If they want to just set it aside, they can do that too.

I definitely would caution to everyone that’s watching: Find out how your provider is measuring it and if they’re even measuring it. And then understand how you want to analyze those results to determine what you do with it and how. Are your results for the population that has accurate opens? Is it remaining stable? Is it going down?

I think the first order of business is understanding how your technology providers are tracking this, so you can then figure out where to go from there.

What are we seeing with MPP so far, what can we learn from it, and what’s changed?

April: At SparkPost, we’re seeing around 40% of all email opens globally being opened via iOS15 or one of the new operating systems. That means only about 10% of opens remain until we get to the saturation point of iOS15, meaning all of the people that we think are using Apple devices.

That actually happened faster than what we were expecting at SparkPost. We thought it’d be maybe six months, but we also noticed a lot of activity of the new operating system being automatically pushed out to a lot of people.

We will see probably very soon what it means to be in a world where you can’t track opens on people that are using Apple devices. We’re almost to that saturation point.

As far as deliverability impacts or anything like that—we’re not seeing anything really changing drastically yet. But it’s interesting that we’re at that saturation point already, or almost to it.

What do we think that Apple’s long term plans are? Will we see others follow suit?

April: To answer the question about why is Apple doing this—this is a big pillar of their brand message: privacy. They are, I think, thinking about the U.S. specifically in light of our government not implementing things like GDPR.

I think Apple views this as an opportunity to do what the government is not doing and offer this to people using their devices. They’re also in this really interesting place where they own the actual piece that you use for all the distribution of this, and so they can really control and lock down the devices.

We’ve also seen the demise of third-party cookies that’s been gone out of the Safari browser. We know that’s coming in 2023 for Google, but [as for] Safari, they’ve had the ability to shut down tracking on that browser for quite some time. So, it seems natural that they would lean into privacy on open tracking too, as a proof point for people that use their devices that “Hey, we’re continuing this trend of believing that your privacy is important.”

To answer the question around do we think other companies will do this: Google is going to stop third-party cookie tracking, so I don’t know. I think we should be open to the fact that Google might decide to follow what Apple is doing.

We’ve heard rumblings at SparkPost that a major mailbox provider is considering (not Gmail) blocking open tracking or maybe even giving people the ability to pay for access to that, but we don’t know that for sure.

But the fact that MPP is already impacting nearly half of email opens, I think we should already consider what a world without opens should look like and pivot based on that—and expect that there will be more of this type of tracking being blocked.

MPP is changing how we look at performance, but not necessarily how we’re setting goals for our campaigns. Would you agree?

April: I actually agree with you—there has not been a lot of change [to how we’re setting goals for our campaigns].

The places where we have seen some changes where the use case relied on opens would be campaign logic. The example is automated flows that used opens (or lack of opens) to determine the next best message. Or even in the situations where people would send a batch email, wait and see who opened and didn’t, and if you didn’t open, then they would respond with a new subject line.

Some of those things are basically sunk. They’re toast. I do know of clients that have changed their logic a bit to kind of get around that.

One thing I would have expected to become more pronounced is around using opens to determine engagement for deliverability purposes. But I’m not really seeing a ton of changes there yet, and I’m also not seeing deliverability issues.

I have expected that in Q4—just as this thing was ramping up and adoption was happening—that we would maybe start to see some deliverability issues out of not being able to look at opens for reengagement. But we never actually saw that.

I don’t know, John, if you saw the same thing at Epsilon—but it seemed like everything kind of went off without a hitch, so I think maybe the opens are not as important as we long thought they were.

John: Well, deliverability people are superstitious. I don’t want to jinx anything here.

Epsilon is living in a world where by default, we’re kind of holding those MPPs out. Again, they’re collectible, but we’re putting them out. So if we imagine the customer saying, “I only want to send to one year opens [or subscribers who have opened an email in the past year],” and they’re not adding back in those MPPs, then their list is going down. It’s going by the old engagement metrics, and it’s not considering the MPP open.

But I’m not shocked that you’re not seeing folks drop off a cliff. For those folks that are counting MPP opens as open, I think we have to consider it well.

Going back a year is somewhat of a default. That’s what most of our marketers are doing. Basically, [MPP] started three months ago. A majority of the time, we have people that have genuinely opened for at least nine months ago. [If you look at one year], for the trailing nine months, we had the regular open rate (so kind of the window of where we’re dropping those people off).

It’s a subtle change overtime. We’re still sending to mostly the true engagers from the old rules, and we may continue to send to more and more of the Apple MPP openers, so it’s kind of a subtle change.


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Kimberly Huang

Kimberly Huang

Kimberly Huang is a Content Marketing Manager at Litmus