Apple OR: new email privacy rules will prevent OR tracking

EmailLabs Team, 1 July 2021

Apple has announced a new feature in its email client for mobile systems and desktops that aims to protect email privacy. If a user chooses to enable it, we will not be able to use tracking pixels to collect OR rate, which are statistics related to the opening of emails. Since (according to data presented by Litmus) globally more than half of openings already come from the email app from Apple, and the number of users continues to grow, this means revolutionary changes for all email senders.

The new privacy rules for the native Mail app will allow users to disable OR tracking which is one of the key statistics indicating the effectiveness of email marketing campaigns. As a result, we won’t know if a user has opened an email, and their IP address will be masked so that it can’t be linked to other online activity, as well as their location. While no exact date has been set, the new feature is expected to arrive in September or November this year and will be available on iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey devices.

Apple OR: new privacy policy in practice

Numerous tests have confirmed that Apple sometimes loads images even for emails that have not been opened. This means that emails received in Mail may show false open results. Importantly, the choice of mail service doesn’t matter, so if a user is using a Gmail account, we still won’t get a glimpse of actual email campaign statistics.

However, it is worth mentioning that the new privacy controls do not apply to the entire system, but only to the native Mail app. Therefore, if a user uses, for example, the Gmail client or another mail application, we will still be able to get the results of openings.

How many people are using an email app from Apple? Individual reports vary slightly but based on information provided by Litmus, in the first quarter of 2021, 51.8% of all opens and clicks came from one of the email clients from Apple, with 38.9% from the iPhone, 11.5% from the Mail app, and 1.4% from the iPad. It’s worth noting that Apple has been on an upward trend for quite some time, thus we can expect further market dominance.


How will Private Relay affect CTR results?

What about the CTR which stands for the click-through rate? During testing, we were able to determine that with Private Relay enabled, which will be part of the new iCloud+ offering, all web browsing activity in Safari is encrypted and routed through multiple proxy servers. It turns out that in many attempts, the actual IP address was masked for both HTTP and HTTPS sites.

Additionally, initial tests indicate that Apple will not modify the querystring or User-agent string. Thus, the changes imposed by Apple probably will not affect the results related to first-party click tracking.

How will the new feature affect email senders?

The OR ratio is not a perfect metric, but we’ve learned to interpret it to the point where it allows us to identify user needs fairly accurately. However, now without access to opens, senders will have to rely on clicks and deeper analytics to figure out if a user is active and even interested in the content being sent.

Open rates have long been an important indicator to show engagement, based on which decisions were made to, for example, remove early or retarget unengaged users. What’s more, the lack of this type of data doesn’t allow the proper segmentation, leaving many senders to fall into poor sending practices, which eventually will affect the users themselves.

Instead of receiving tailored content, they will mostly be receiving messages they simply don’t need! On the other hand, the changes introduced by Apple may have a positive impact at the same time. How is it possible? Marketers, looking for an alternative, will probably lean towards deeper metrics, which may result in e.g. improved A/B testing.

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