It's not unusual to be paranoid about privacy while working in a marketing department. I trust you on this. Did you know that marketers follow you when you open an email newsletter?
In September 2021, Apple made this tracking impossible in the default Mail app on all of their devices. As soon as the feature was announced, I switched to Apple Mail. You might feel the same way, but marketers feel like they have lost a tool.
Simon Poulton, vice president of digital intelligence at marketing agency Wpromote, says he will stop talking to someone if they don't respond to him.
Tracking email is a way for marketers to see who is listening and who is not.
Privacy advocates don't feel the same. Bill Budington is a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and he says that tracking is bad for privacy.
Let's talk about what this feature does and what it means for you.
How email tracking works and how Apple blocks it.
If you are really old, you might recall that email clients used to not open certain emails with formatting. You would be asked to open the email in your browser. There is a reason for this.
When computers couldn't display much in the way of graphics, email dates back to the 70s. Because of this, email protocols are more or less designed for simple text messages with attachments, which works until you want to add things like colors and images. Adding code to an email message that points to images hosted on a server was a workaround by the 90's.
This history is what makes modern email tracking possible. Most email newsletters have an invisible image with a unique file name. The server keeps a record of every time this image is opened. This quirk of internet history means that marketers can track exactly when you open an email, which can be used to figure out your location.
How does Apple Mail stop this? caching Before you open an email, Apple Mail downloads all the images. Every message downloaded to Apple Mail is marked "read" regardless of whether you open it. Your precise location can't be tracked because Apples routes the download through two different proxies.
Apple has been adding features like this for a while.
Is this something that caught marketers off guard? Kind of.
The whole idea of de-identification of users is something we have been planning on for a while. This is a multipronged attack from Apple.