Email Engagement

Apple MPP: Squeezing Until the Engagement Pips Squeak!

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Since the introduction of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) on September 20th, we’ve monitored adoption closely.

One-third (32 percent) of all email “opens” are now generated by pixel fires from Apple’s proxy, according to data presented in the November edition of Validity’s State of Email Live webinar series.

When MPP launched, email marketers worried degraded open rate data would make it difficult to follow established email best practices like list hygiene, recency management, and journey automation. Potential implications included failure to identify and suppress inactive responders, and less effective targeting and segmentation.

Ironically, Apple’s own privacy policy acknowledged pixel tracking as a recommended best practice, stating:

“Pixel tags enable us to send email messages in a format that you can read, and they tell us whether mail has been opened. We may use this data to reduce or eliminate messages sent to customers.”

This statement has since been removed (the privacy policy was updated on October 27th), but Apple’s own postmaster guidance still states:

“We don’t offer a feedback loop (FBL). We do encourage bulk email senders to…periodically suppress inactive or disengaged subscribers from your mailing list so that only engaged subscribers keep receiving your emails.”

We’re seeing ominous early indicators that senders’ concerns were justified. MPP is taking root quickly, jeopardizing sender reputations and deliverability just when companies can least afford it—the business-critical peak sales season.

Here’s a look at what Validity’s latest global email data tells us.

Unsubscribe rates are decreasing

Let’s start with the good news: Unsubscribe rates have decreased by around one-third from the previous 12-month benchmark of 0.09 percent.

Graph showing average unsubscribe rate from December 2020 to October 2021.

The precise reason for this shift is not immediately clear. It may be that opting in to MPP has given people more trust in their emails and made them less likely to opt out. Or it could be that pre-loaded images are making unsubscribe links (often located in email footers) less accessible in fully rendered emails.

The shift could also be linked to another Apple innovation, “Hide my Email.” This feature allows Apple Mail users to generate unique, random email addresses for app and website use while keeping their personal email addresses private. Subscribers might be using this feature to identify and segment unwanted emails, and curb future emails by registering bulk spam complaints.

This hypothesis would support our following observations.

Complaint rates are increasing

Now for the bad news: Complaint rates have doubled over the same period. This increase is likely related to the decrease in unsubscribes.

One major Validity client shared an analysis of the user agent data for their recent complaints. According to the report, 97 percent of the increased volume came from the iOS Mail app.

Why is this the case? Prior research into Microsoft’s Spam Fighters program (more about this in the next section) may provide a clue. As part of the program, Hotmail and Outlook users provide feedback on the marketing emails they receive. These responses are used to train Microsoft’s spam filters.

However, many users sign up for the program expecting it to reduce the amount of email they receive and are outraged when they receive more.

Are we now seeing a similar disconnect with MPP? Could Apple Mail users be opting in thinking they’ll receive increased protection from junk emails, only to find this isn’t the case?

SRD rates are starting to soar

Participants in Validity’s Sender Certification program will be familiar with Spam Fighters because it generates the sender reputation data (SRD) number that forms one of their compliance metrics.

The Spam Fighters program asks Microsoft subscribers if their marketing emails are junk or not. Negative votes (as a percentage of total votes) form the sender’s SRD rate.

Graph showing average SRD junk rate from October 2020 to October 2021.

After trending downward for much of the year, global SRD rates suddenly changed direction, suggesting subscribers are now less enamored with the marketing emails they are receiving.

As peak sales season approaches, this trend seems likely to continue—and amplify. Validity research indicates that as email volumes grow (meaning more sampling), the percentage of negative responses also increases. This makes deliverability harder since this data feeds into Microsoft’s filtering decisions.

Data hygiene is diminishing

Reduced ability to identify inactive subscribers (because Apple Mail users always report as “opened”) increases the likelihood of recycled spam traps. Recycled spam traps are old email addresses no longer used by their original owners and reassigned by mailbox providers as part of their spam monitoring activities.

Graph showing an increase in recycled trap hits from September 2021 (when Apple introduced Mail Privacy Protection) to October 2021.

Reports show a clear increase in recent recycled spam trap hits. This shift may not be directly related to MPP—It could reflect senders mailing to less-active subscribers as they scale up for the peak sales season. However, this observation is consistent with the others and points to increasing challenges around maintaining high-quality data.

Email subscriber fatigue was already a concern prior to Apple MPP: Alibaba reported their slowest sales growth ever from this year’s Singles Day.

Consumer caution, aligned with fears of widespread supply chain disruption, suggests this slow performance may last the duration of the peak sales season.

Fortunately, Validity is well-positioned to assist:

  • Sender Certification preserves email programs’ reputations and inbox placement rates in the face of these additional negative signals.
  • List verification provides scalable validation to help maintain engaged and actionable email databases.
  • Our Everest email success platform provides new engagement metrics and analytics to deliver campaign success in a post-MPP world.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post. We’ll provide 10 tips to help email senders offset the negative impact of these MPP-related trends.

In the meantime, learn more about MPP by reading our eBook: “What the Heck is Mail Privacy Protection?