Thanks to Substack and its rivals, 2021 has been huge for subscription newsletters. But Casey Newton of Platformer notes that the newsletter boom times could be threatened by Apple’s newly announced Mail Privacy Protection feature for iOS 15. And he’s not alone.
Apple describes the new feature as follows:
“In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location.”
Not all of the details have yet been revealed, but the feature — specifically the “invisible pixels” part — could hurt email marketers. As Newton points out, email marketers make use of this ability to gauge open rate. This tells them how many people are engaging with content. While he notes that some users find any kind of tracking creepy (to Apple’s point), it will also make it tougher for those who are trying to great honest, non-spammy email newsletter content. Newton continues:
“Given Apple’s monopoly advantage with their preinstalled Mail app, we don’t need much of an uptake from what they’re calling Mail Privacy Protection to break the dam on spy pixels. You can’t really say anything authoritatively about open rates if 5-10-30-50% of your recipients are protected against snooping, as you won’t know whether that’s why your spy pixel isn’t tripping, or it’s because they’re just not opening your email.”
Newton isn’t the only one sounding the alarm. Joshua Benton writes for NiemanLab: “This is another sign that Apple’s war against targeted advertising isn’t just about screwing Facebook. They’re also coming for your Substack.”
Block those pixels
Apple’s not the first company to adopt this pixel-blocking technology. Basecamp’s Hey email service launched with a similar feature. But a company with Apple’s heft and reach obviously changes the game. The only comparable feature, Apple’s recently launched App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS 14, has already shaken up the personalized ad-tracking industry. Given the choice between being tracked and not, unsurprisingly the majority of users seemed to opt for not being tracked. Far fewer people know about email tracking pixels than know that apps gather data and use this for personalized ads. The response to them may therefore be even more negative.
What impact will this have?
Quite what impact all of this ultimately has on subscription newsletters remains to be seen. Both Newton and Benton suggest that newsletters will be able to (and, indeed, will have to) roll with the punches. But it’s certainly a bit of disruption that many people weren’t expecting to be hit with. Who knows: While it’s a long shot, maybe if this has an impact on email newsletters it could give Apple’s News+ magazine and news subscription service an added boost.
Are you likely to be affected by Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature? Would you opt out of invisible pixel tracking, given the choice? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.