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Apple’s new email privacy controls: a big turnoff for consumers & marketers

Apple’s all-or-nothing approach to email privacy setting is huge misstep, writes Sailthru chief marketer Jason Grunberg. Sure, people want to protect themselves, but the changes offer users none of the flexibility for controlling their data that apps allow. It’s time for Apple to change its approach, he says. Here’s how and why...

Apple recently announced new privacy features for its Mail app. It explained: “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.”

Privacy protection is hugely valuable and I applaud Apple for giving consumers the ability to determine if they want their open and location data to be tracked. However, I also have to call Apple out for missing an obvious opportunity with this announcement. Rather than respect the unique relationship that each person has with each email sender, it has designed a privacy system that is either turned ’on’ or ’off’. People and the organizations they email with are worse off as a result.

Email is not just an app

Apple’s App Store grossed $63bn in 2020, up from $50bn in 2019. That’s a huge amount of growth brought on by the pandemic, when people were at home on their phones at record rates. The App Store is a major strategic growth driver for Apple and a big focus for the company. It puts a lot of effort into ensuring that app developers have all of the best tools, data and controls out there.

That’s why individual apps have individual privacy relationships with their users. An iPhone user can download an individual app and then easily navigate to the privacy settings for that app in order to manage their privacy settings. For example, many people may decide that they want their weather apps to know their location, but that they don’t necessarily need their Spanish tutor app to know their location. These settings are now commonly used and managed by individuals.

Apple’s Mail app is similar. Users can turn various privacy settings on or off in the same way. But the results couldn’t be more different. Within a Mail app is not just a single relationship with the company that created the app the way a weather app works. Rather, the Mail app represents an entire universe. Email represents a long list of unique relationships, from friends to coworkers to brands, schools, doctors and much more. Yet, Apple only provides a single switch to turn data tracking on or off for all of them.

Remember the people

Apple is taking consumer choice away from its Mail users and is missing an opportunity in the process. The company can still take the privacy high ground by providing Mail controls, but it could also have empowered consumer choice by offering sender-level controls.

People know the power of their data and they are ready to use it. In a study, 60% of respondents said they would share data such as location with financial services companies if they received discounts, while 81% said they’d share it for faster loan approvals. In another study, 58% of respondents said they’d share with retail brands in order to receive personalized experiences. Now, people have no choice but to be ’all on’ or ’all off’ with mail.

That choice is no good because, as much as people do want to share data, they are also quite privacy aware and are likely to want to protect themselves from senders that they don’t have a favorable relationship with.

Include people In the value exchange

Clearly people see both sides, the benefits and the risks of sharing data. What changes the balance between these two is how companies treat their relationship with individuals, and in this case that starts with Apple. First, Apple needs to accept that the average iPhone user is now data-savvy. They need controls that aren’t monolithic, but that are nuanced and flexible. Apple doesn’t own the inbox, the recipient does.

Second, companies need to prioritize transparency in that value exchange. Google may have just granted us two more years before Chrome blocks third-party cookies, but Apple’s Safari browser already does. First-party data collection should be a major priority for companies. To collect and use that data successfully, each individual needs to be aware of – and in control of – that value exchange. People know that providing email, age, location and other data is a gift to a company and they expect something in return – perhaps a discount or more relevant message. People also know that companies use sophisticated technology to use that data for targeting, and they are curious to understand more.

Companies such as Dick’s Sporting Goods have upped their value exchange for customers with super fast shipping from their local store. Thrive Market personalized shopping experiences across its site and in every email. The RealReal customizes product results and email outreach based on account data. All of these brands are in a good position to ask customers to opt in to continue allowing data to be used for targeting and personalization because their value exchange is clear.

Mail itself is more like the entire App Store than like a single app and deserves much more flexible controls. Email is a vital communication channel for people. In fact, people trust email newsletters more than the actual news. Companies should enter the conversation, both to ask Apple to change its approach and to start communicating more transparently with their own audiences. App developers are vocal and active participants in the design of the App Store. Companies with a focus on email should be just as vocal about Mail.

Jason Grunberg is chief marketer at Sailthru.

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