Apple Putting a Stop to Email Tracking Pixels With Mail Privacy Protection in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey

Tracking when you've opened up an email and what you've read is something that many companies and advertisers rely on for their marketing efforts, plus there are email clients out there designed to let users know when the emails they've sent have been opened up.

ios15 mail privacy feature
Much of this tracking is facilitated by remote images that load when viewing an email, and some of it is even sneakier, with advertisers using invisible tracking pixels. Tracking pixels are hidden graphics that you might not see in an email, but your email client loads them, allowing senders to gather data from you. Senders can see that you've opened an email get other information, such as your IP address.

With iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey, Apple is putting a stop to email tracking with a suite of Mail Privacy Protection features.

Mail Privacy Protection is not enabled by default, but Apple will highlight it as an option when you upgrade to ‌iOS 15‌ or ‌iPadOS 15‌. If you're running one of these updates, you can turn it on in Settings > Mail. Tap on "Privacy Protection" and then toggle on "Protect Mail Activity." In ‌macOS Monterey‌, open up Mail, go to the Mail Preferences, and then click on Privacy. From there, toggle on Protect Mail Activity.

mail privacy protection
When enabled, Mail Privacy Protection hides your IP address and loads all remote content privately in the background, routing it through multiple proxy services and randomly assigning an IP address.

Here's how Apple describes the feature in full:

Emails that you receive may include hidden pixels that allow the email's sender to learn information about you. As soon as you open an email, information about your Mail activity can be collected by the sender without transparency and an ability to control what information is shared. Email senders can learn when and how many times you opened their email, whether you forwarded the email, your Internet Protocol (IP) address, and other data that can be used to build a profile of your behavior and learn your location.

If you choose to turn it on, Mail Privacy Protection helps protect your privacy by preventing email senders, including Apple, from learning information about your Mail activity. When you receive an email in the Mail app, rather than downloading remote content when you open an email, Mail Privacy Protection downloads remote content in the background by default - regardless of how you do or don't engage with the email. Apple does not learn any information about the content.

In addition, all remote content downloaded by Mail is routed through multiple proxy servers, preventing the sender from learning your IP address. Rather than share your IP address, which can allow the email sender to learn your location, Apple's proxy network will randomly assign an IP address that corresponds only to the region your device is in. As a result, email senders will only receive generic information rather than information about your behavior. Apple does not access your IP address.

It's worth noting that senders will see an IP address that corresponds to the region where you're located, giving them generic information about your behavior that is non-specific and cannot be used for building a profile of your behavior.

You could previously block email trackers by blocking the loading of remote content in the Mail app on iOS and macOS, but Apple's new feature is superior because you can still view all email content as normal while Mail Privacy Protection works in the background with no visual compromises.

Email senders can still monitor your behavior with tracked links that you will need to be mindful of, but the behind the scenes tracking that you might not notice won't happen.

Mail Tracking Privacy pairs well with iCloud Private Relay, a feature that's included in ‌iCloud‌+. ‌iCloud‌+ is just Apple's name for its paid ‌iCloud‌ plans, which start out at $0.99 per month. With that $1 per month, all the traffic that leaves your device is routed through two separate internet relays so advertisers can't see your IP address or location, nor can they link your browsing history to this information to build a profile about you.

icloud private relay
‌iCloud‌ Private Relay is not quite a VPN, but it's similar, and it's an incredible feature for the less technically inclined that would not think to use a VPN or wouldn't know how, such as elderly people who need the most protection from tracking and scams.

Apple's plans for ‌iCloud‌ Private Relay and Mail Tracking Privacy are already worrying advertisers, according to a report earlier this week from The Wall Street Journal. Ad-measurement firm Branch Metrics' CEO Alex Austin said that Private Relay could be "vastly more damaging to the advertising ecosystem than the App Tracking Transparency measures implemented early this year. "If IP were to go away entirely, it would be very challenging for a lot of companies to operate," he said.

As for Mail Privacy Protection, advertisers are "surprised" that Apple blocked tracking in emails because of how much harder it will be for brands to know if their emails are working.

These new privacy features could spur Google to adopt similar measures for Chrome, and a Google spokesperson confirmed that Google is indeed considering similar features for blocking IP addresses.

‌iCloud‌ Private Relay and Mail Privacy Protection alone are enough reason to upgrade to the newest software when it becomes available this fall, but the rest of the features coming in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey can be found in our roundups.

Related Roundups: iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey
Related Forums: iOS 15, macOS Monterey

Top Rated Comments

macsplusmacs Avatar
12 months ago
I am so into this feature. thx apple.
Score: 39 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheYayAreaLiving ? Avatar
12 months ago
Protection + privacy = transparency to the consumers.

win/win for everyone.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
firesuite Avatar
12 months ago

Can someone clarify; if an invisible pixel is associated with my email address then what does it matter how many proxies it goes through? If that image is loaded they know it was my email address that did it. Is this literally just hiding my IP and nothing more?
I’m not 100% positive, but I read this line:

“When you receive an email in the Mail app, rather than downloading remote content when you open an email, Mail Privacy Protection downloads remote content in the background by default - regardless of how you do or don't engage with the email. Apple does not learn any information about the content.”

… as meaning that Apple’s service will automatically download remote content through THEIR proxy servers (possibly anonymized), whether the email was ever opened by the user or not. This would result in the sender not having reliable tracking data. If every email they send is automatically loaded by a proxy server with a scrubbed IP, their data is mostly noise and no signal. It could essentially render most remote tracking pixels/images/etc useless to the sender, because it doesn’t tell them anything about the user’s behavior. Including whether the end user actually ever opened the email or not. It may look to the sender as if every email was always opened immediately, but that’s not actually what’s happening. The more widely adopted this feature is, the less reliable the data is for the senders.

I could be misunderstanding, but that’s how I read this.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
fwmireault Avatar
12 months ago
It’s annoying for apple mail to have all these great privacy features but lacking basic features that all other mail client have, like send later mail, giving a distinct color for each account connected or customizable notifications. I want Spark features with Apple privacy policy
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Morod Avatar
12 months ago
Apple costs, but saves even more…
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Techwatcher Avatar
12 months ago
This is only for Apple's in-house Mail app right? If so I suppose I'll switch back to it from Outlook. Outlook is so good though. :rolleyes:
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

icloud private relay change ios 15 3

Apple Clarifies iCloud Private Relay Wording in iOS 15.3 to Prevent Confusion Over Carrier Support

Wednesday January 12, 2022 11:41 am PST by
In today's iOS 15.3 beta, Apple has updated the wording that people see when iCloud Private Relay is disabled for a cellular or WiFi network, clarifying that when it's off, it's not always because of a lack of carrier support. The new message says that Private Relay is turned off, but it explains that either a cellular plan does not support it or that it has been deactivated in Cellular...
ios15 mail privacy feature

Mail Privacy Protection Seemingly Undermined by Apple Watch [Updated]

Tuesday November 16, 2021 6:28 am PST by
The security provided by Apple's Mail Privacy Protection feature is seemingly undermined by a lack of Apple Watch support, security researchers have found. Mail Privacy Protection is a new feature introduced with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey that hides your IP address so senders are not able to determine your location or link email habits to your other online activity. It also...
icloud private relay ios 15

Apple Says iOS 15.2 Included No Changes That Would Have Toggled iCloud Private Relay Off

Wednesday January 12, 2022 2:23 pm PST by
iOS 15.2 did not introduce a bug that turned iCloud Private Relay off for some users, Apple said in a statement that was provided to MacRumors. The statement was in response to a T-Mobile claim that iOS 15.2 had automatically toggled the iCloud Private Relay feature off for some users. iCloud Private Relay is an innovative internet privacy service that allows users with an iCloud+ subscription ...
macos monterey microphone indicator

Apple Highlights New Privacy Features in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, Including Microphone Indicator on Mac

Monday June 7, 2021 2:01 pm PDT by
Apple today previewed new privacy protections coming in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8. The software updates are available in beta for developers starting today and will be publicly released later this year. First, a new App Privacy Report feature will let users see how often apps have used the permission they've previously granted to access their location, photos, camera,...
iCloud General Feature

UK Network Operators Target iCloud Private Relay in Complaint to Regulator

Sunday March 13, 2022 3:48 am PDT by
A group of UK network operators have formally urged the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to regulate iCloud Private Relay, claiming that Apple's privacy service is anti-competitive, potentially bad for users, and a threat to national security. In its response to the CMA's Interim Report on mobile ecosystems, Mobile UK, a trade association of British mobile network operators,...
Edison Mail M1 Mac Support

Edison Mail Updated With Native Support for Apple Silicon Macs

Thursday February 17, 2022 8:02 am PST by
Edison Mail today announced that it has updated its Mac app with native support for Apple silicon, allowing the app to run faster on Macs powered by the M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max chips. The new version of the app is available now through the Mac App Store. Edison Mail first released a desktop app for the Mac in 2019 with features such as One-Click Unsubscribe for junk emails, Block Sender,...
Google Logo Feature Slack

Google Launching Privacy Sandbox to Limit Ad Tracking on Android, Calls 'Blunt Approaches' Like Apple's 'Ineffective'

Wednesday February 16, 2022 7:50 am PST by
Google has announced plans to strengthen user privacy on Android with a new initiative that will put an end to cross-app tracking on Android over the next two years, making it more difficult for advertisers to track users across other apps. In a blog post, Google announced a multi-year project named "Privacy Sandbox" that introduces "more private advertising solutions" for mobile apps. The...
duck duck go email protection

DuckDuckGo Announces Cross Platform Alternative to Apple's Hide My Email

Tuesday July 20, 2021 10:51 am PDT by
DuckDuckGo today announced its brand new Email Protection feature that will allow users to save themselves from being tracked by trackers embedded into emails by forwarding them to a free and personalized DuckDuckGo email before being sent to their actual email. DuckDuckGo's Email Protection comes as an alternative to Apple's Hide My Email part of iCloud+, allowing users to direct emails for ...

Popular Stories

RIP iPod Feature

RIP iPod: A Look Back at Apple's Iconic Music Player Over the Years

Friday May 13, 2022 2:25 pm PDT by
Apple earlier this week announced the discontinuation of the iPod touch, and because it was the last iPod still available for purchase, its sunsetting effectively marks the end of the entire iPod lineup. To send the iPod on its way, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the most notable iPod releases over the last 21 years. Original iPod (2001) Introduced in October...
iOS 16 mock for article

Gurman: iOS 16 to Include New Ways of System Interaction and 'Fresh Apple Apps'

Sunday May 15, 2022 6:14 am PDT by
iOS 16 will include new ways of interacting with the system and some "fresh Apple apps," Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has said, offering some more detail on what Apple has in store for the upcoming release of iOS and iPadOS set to be announced in a few weeks at WWDC. In the latest edition of his Power On newsletter, Gurman wrote that while iOS 16 is not likely to introduce a major face-lift to...
14 16 inch 2021 mbps back to back feature orange

Five Things You Still Can't Do With a MacBook Pro

Wednesday May 11, 2022 11:16 am PDT by
It's been over 200 days since Apple debuted its redesigned MacBook Pro lineup. Offered in 14-inch and 16-inch display sizes, the new-look MacBooks wowed Apple fans and creative pros alike with their powerful custom Apple silicon, mini-LED screen, and multiple connectivity options. But there are still some things you can't do with a MacBook Pro. Here are five features some Mac users are still...
iOS 16 mock for article

Which Devices Will iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 Support?

Thursday May 12, 2022 7:29 am PDT by
While there are as yet no concrete rumors related to which devices iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 will support, the discontinuation of the iPod touch earlier this week may be an indication that as many as nine devices could be about to lose support for Apple's upcoming operating systems. iOS and iPadOS 13, 14, and 15 support all of the same devices, with the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus,...
apple mac ipad watch trade in

Apple Launches Limited-Time Bonus Trade-In Credit for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch in Many Countries

Wednesday May 11, 2022 5:14 am PDT by
Apple has launched a special limited-time offer for iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac, and iPad trade-in that offers customers additional credit when trading in their only device for a new one. The offer is being run in several countries including the US, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, India, and France. In the UK, Apple is offering up to £50 of extra trade-in credit...
sony

Sony Unveils Redesigned WH-1000XM5 Headphones With Improved Noise Cancelation

Thursday May 12, 2022 9:26 am PDT by
Sony's flagship WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones have been among the best on the market for some time, and today Sony announced its fifth-generation WH-1000XM5 headphones, boasting a new design and several improvements over the previous model. The redesigned headphones replace the shrouded arms that swivel on the XM4's with an exposed arm that has a single contact point at the earcups,...
apple tv 4k design clue

Kuo: New Apple TV to Launch in Second Half of 2022, Lower Price Possible

Friday May 13, 2022 7:58 am PDT by
Apple plans to launch a new version of the Apple TV in the second half of 2022, according to well-known analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In a tweet today, Kuo said the new Apple TV will have an improved cost structure, suggesting that the device could have a lower price that is more competitive with other streaming media players like Google's Chromecast line, Amazon's Fire TV line, and the Roku line. ...
iPhone 14 Purple Feature

Full Range of iPhone 14 Color Options Revealed by Purported Leak From China

Wednesday May 11, 2022 2:20 am PDT by
The iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models will be available in a refreshed range of color options, including an all-new purple color, according to a recent rumor. The claim comes from a post on Chinese social media site Weibo by an unverified source and purports to reveal the full range of color options for Apple's upcoming iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models. Compared to the selection of color...