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Privacy focused announcements from WWDC21

Following on from my last post of WWDC, I thought it was worth discussing some of the latest privacy and security focused updated expected to hit the Apple platforms this year.

It’s worth nothing that these kind of changes are nothing new – with every company looking to innovate to retain users, but maintain some value for developers and ad publishers. Apple however – does sit in a different boat here, with no large products focused on selling user data – they would prefer to avoid the kind of backlashes that have plagued both Google and Facebook recently, both focusing their products more on ad publisher revenue than user privacy.

In this article, I’m going to run you through the 3 standout privacy features from this years WWDC, how they may impact your campaigns – and what you may need to do now to minimise the impact.

Mail Privacy Protection

This is a feature that has been a long time in the making and personally I’ve always wondered why the default mail client in iOS has allowed images by default, whilst Apple’s other products such as Safari have stayed ahead of its peers with regards to other privacy features, such as 3rd party cookie blocking.

If you didn’t already know, most (if not all) email services, from your marketing automation platform, to platforms such as mailchimp, and even some email clients themselves, add hidden tracking pixels to emails. When these invisible pixels are loaded, it lets the original sender know that you’ve opened their email – allowing tracking of the elusive “open rate”, an important engagement metric for email newsletters and communications.

Blocking these invisible pixels is nothing new and most email clients default to hiding images, asking the user to opt in to view them manually. The big impact here is just how popular Apple’s platform is, which according to Litmus’s latest stats show Apple Mail is responsible for 93.5% of all email opens on mobile, and 58.4% on desktop. Now – it could be argued that as these email clients has historically not blocked email tracking that these numbers could be inflated, but its still clear that Apple has a significant lead here.

Not only is Apple now blocking these pixels, but also hiding your IP address (most likely through their Private Relay feature – more on this in a moment), making location and tracking behaviour across multiple devices more difficult.

What does this mean for you?

The biggest impact is going to be your open rate – and based on Apple’s iOS adoption, expect this to plunge fairly quickly come its release as users opt into this new feature.

The good news here however is that this isn’t the only metric you can use to measure the success of your email communication. Email clicks (should) still be trackable – so you’ll know if your content is engaging – and you’ll still know your overall subscriber count (and if this is growing or not) – which should be the ultimate metric for most newsletter based comms, these are opt-in based methods after all.

If your newsletter is ad-supported, its likely these will actually jump up in value assuming you have a currently engaged subscriber base and clear information on your target audience – as context based advertising rises over the next few months.

If your email comms are based from your MA platform, such as Eloqua, Marketo or Pardot, expect the ability to identify traffic from emails to drop off, although with the correct tracking link setup this should be minimised.

Hide My Email

This follows on to the second announcement I want to talk about here, Apple’s new iCloud+ feature “hide my email”, a new way of creating disposable email addresses to sign up to anything. Disposable email addresses have been nothing new (think – sharklasers), but placing them in the purview of many users that previously wouldn’t have thought of using one – and making them so much more convenient will likely increase their usage significantly.

For most marketers, this may actually increase signups to our services, although long term I would the long term value of these customers to drop as the barriers to closing accounts are reduced (as simple as cancelling the email address) and the perceived value is reduced (easy to sign up will make many services feel disposable). The truth is though, these changes will only apply to personal email accounts (and to be honest – personal iCloud email accounts – I for one – have never used my iCloud address). Business email services should remain unaffected.

What does this mean for you?

Very little really, but expect the form field “business email” to be more prolific in forms as companies look to differentiate their service to a business audience and collect more valuable email addresses. At the end of the day a sign up is still a sign up and a real user – whether they’re using an email forwarding address or not – we just need to focus our emails and products on creating value (which is no bad thing) to ensure users remain engaged.

Safari Updates

WWDC would not be complete if it didn’t include yet another attempt by Apple to get us to use their Safari browser. Now – I have nothing against Safari, after all most of us (including me) use it on our phones, despite there being other browsers available, however on the desktop I’ve just never got on with it. It’s extensions have always felt clunky, and there’s always one or two sites that just fail to load (for whatever reason). This years updates followed the usual pattern – the reminder on browser speed, and some welcomed visual updates to the desktop version (yes – I may even try it again), but the bigger update here is behind the scenes. Safari, just as mail above, will now hide your IP address, using a “private relay” feature (essentially a double VPN – which Apple was trying very hard to not say) to bounce your traffic around the internet. Just as with mail above, this will make IP tracking on mobile pretty much useless. This is only part of Apple’s iCloud+ service, so not everyone will have these features enabled, but including them is certainly going to impact traffic from mobile.

On top of this, Apple is also adding a privacy report to Safari, similar to that available in other privacy focused browsers such as Brave (my previous browser of choice), making it clear which sites are behaving, and which are not.

These features together certainly make Safari a good choice as your default moving forward – and in fact – with the recent additions of FLoC and other ad technology’s to Google Chrome, could spark an overall exodus to the browser.

What does this mean for you?

In reality, its too early to tell. Chrome is still the dominant browser by far, and this is unlikely to change overnight – the impact of 3rd party cookie removal next year is likely to impact your metrics a lot more than Apple’s changes here. However – the domination on mobile Safari has, and the visibility Apple has will likely increase usage of VPNs and other privacy focused features overall – especially with so much talk of “hiding IP addresses”, expect it to become a lot harder to link mobile and desktop traffic together (especially when combined with the removal of 3rd party cookies), essentially reducing the impact of intent data tracking significantly.

Instead – as with the removal of 3P cookies, look to build signed in experiences into your web presences, using this to build up your 1st part profile data – and thus increasing your ability to target your audience.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this dive in to the depths of Apple’s recent WWDC21 announcements and how they may impact your marketing and reporting when they launch later on this year.

If you’ve liked anything I’ve had to say here please comment and follow me on twitter at @busbyjon where I’d love to hear your opinion on how these changes could impact your next marketing campaign.

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