Apple Mail now blocks email tracking. Here’s what it means to you

Nothing costs you more paranoid about privacy than working in a marketing department. Trust me on this. For example, did you know that merchants keep track of every time you open an email newsletter and where you were when you did?

Apple caused a bit of panic among marketing professionals in September 2021 by effectively disabling this tracking in the default Mail app on iPhone, iPad and Mac. I personally switched to Apple Mail as soon as that feature was released. You may feel the same way, but traders feel like they have lost a useful tool.

“If I start a conversation with someone and he doesn’t respond to me, I’ll stop with him someday,” says Simon Poulton, vice president of digital intelligence at marketing agency Wpromote. “But if anyone nods, I’ll keep talking.”

Email tracking opens up, for Poulton, a way for marketers to see who is listening and who is not – and adjust their strategy accordingly.

Proponents of privacy feel different. Bill Budington, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says tracking is bad for privacy and is pleased that “Apple Mail is now offering tools to restore your privacy.”

Let’s talk more about what exactly this feature does — and what it means to you.

How email tracking works (and how Apple blocks it)

If you’re really fucking old — 36, for example — you might remember that some 90’s email clients couldn’t open certain formatted emails. Instead, you will be asked to open the email in your web browser. There is a reason for this.

Email dates back to the 70s, when computers couldn’t display much graphics. That’s why email protocols are more or less designed for simple text messages with attachments — which works as long as you don’t want to add things like colors and images. By the 1990s, a workaround had emerged: adding HTML code to an email message pointing to images hosted on servers.

I mention this history only because it is what makes modern email tracking possible. Most of the email newsletters you receive include an invisible “image”, usually a single white pixel, with a unique file name. The server monitors each time this “image” is opened and at which IP address. This oddity of Internet history means that marketers can keep track of exactly when you open your email and your IP address, which can be used to roughly determine your location.

So how does Apple Mail stop it? By caching. Apple Mail downloads all images for all emails before you open them. Practically speaking, this means that every message downloaded to Apple Mail is marked as “read”, regardless of whether you open it. Apples also directs the download through two different proxy servers, which means that your exact location also cannot be tracked.

Apple has been adding features like this for some time

Did that catch traders unprepared? Somehow.

“The Apple Mail thing kind of came out of the left field,” Poulton tells me, “but the whole idea of ​​de-identifying users is something we’ve been planning for a while. This is a multiple attack by Apple. “

Leave a Comment