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Big Tech Changes and Open Rates: What Does it Mean for Associations?

Ashley Wucher
September 20, 2021

Apple is expected to release the iOS15 update sometime next week, and one feature, Mail Privacy Protection, has the marketing world abuzz. We’ve been talking about these changes and what it means for email communications quite a bit over here at PropFuel as well, so I thought now is as good a time as any to start the conversation.

According to Apple, Mail Privacy Protection will stop senders from using invisible tracking pixels to collect information about the recipient. It prevents senders from knowing when a recipient opens an email—what we know in the marketing world as “open rate”—and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.

How Will Mail Privacy Protection Work?

When an iPhone user first opens their Apple Mail app after updating to iOS15, they will get a message prompting them to either “Protect Mail activity” or “Don’t protect Mail activity.”

Mail Privacy Protection will not be turned on by default; users will have to actively make a choice. But, given the response to Apple’s Tracking Transparency tool and the language around the Mail Privacy Protection, it’s likely that most people will choose to be protected.

For every user who opts in to Mail Privacy Protection, Apple will first route emails through a proxy server to pre-load message content—including tracking pixels—before serving to readers. This means that your open rates will show 100 percent, even if those readers don’t actually open those emails.

You won't know when they actually open an email.

You won't be able to track any activity tied to figuring out their location.

What’s more, Mail Privacy Protection will affect any email opened from the Apple Mail app on any device—no matter which email service is used such as Gmail or a work account.

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

This all sounds scary at first read, and understandably so. After all, we’ve conflated open rate and engagement for a long time. But perceptions around digital privacy have evolved, and big tech is responding.

In fact, Mail Privacy Protection is just one of Apple’s recent feature releases as part of its expanded commitment to privacy. The tech giant released its App Tracking Transparency tool with iOS14.5 earlier this year, and already 96 percent of U.S. users are opting out of allowing apps to track them.

This means associations will need to find ways to solicit zero party data —  the data which members and prospective members intentionally and proactively share with an organization through systems like PropFuel — instead of collecting first party data, like open rates, to dissect and analyzed in an effort to guess at consumer intent.

Our members want—and deserve—a more human, personal experience based on their intentional input. Simply put, these changes mean it’s time to stop tracking your members’ actions in an effort to guess at what they need. Instead, it’s time to start talking with them and then acting on what they tell you.

The data you solicit through PropFuel is Zero Party Data; you ask your members or prospective members a question and then use their response data specifically for that person and purpose. Zero Party Data will not be affected by Apple's recent data privacy changes since your members and prospective members are intentionally and knowingly sharing it with you; there is no tracking involved.

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