How to use Apple’s new Mail Privacy Protection to fight email tracking

This feature can render tracking data essentially useless.
A person in a green shirt sitting in front of a computer while a person in a black shirt leans close over their shoulder.

Tracking pixels are essentially this, but way less obvious. Sigmund / Unsplash

When you read your email, there’s a chance whoever sent it is reading you too. As your eyes grab information from the screen, the sender may be grabbing information about you by way of a tiny tracking pixel you never even saw. There are plenty of ways to fight back against this often unwanted and unnoticeable monitoring, but Apple has taken its own anti-tracking efforts a step further with the recent release of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.

When you download the 15th version of Apple’s operating system (it took us about 30 minutes), you’ll have access to Mail Privacy Protection, which is meant to stop people and companies from using invisible pixels to collect information about you. When macOS Monterey comes out later this year, desktop and laptop users will have access as well. This feature is only available in Apple’s built-in Mail app, and won’t affect any email you read in other email apps. It’s not enabled by default, so you’ll have to turn it on yourself.

How to turn on Mail Privacy Protection

The first time you open the Mail app after downloading iOS 15, Apple will tell you all about MPP. From that informational screen, all you have to do is tap the bubble next to Protect Mail activity and you’re good to go.

If you skipped past that screen or tapped Don’t protect Mail activity because you like to do things on your own time, you’ll have to dig a little deeper into the settings to activate the protection. In that case, open the Settings app, go to Mail, find Privacy Protection, and turn on the toggle switch next to Protect Mail Activity.

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If you keep MPP turned off, you’ll still be able to hide your IP address and block remote content (anything that’s downloaded from the internet when you view the message) via other toggle switches on the same Privacy Protection screen. These options have been available for a while, and if you turn on MPP, it’ll override them.

What does Mail Privacy Protection do?

Email senders hoping to learn about you can hide a 1-by-1-pixel image somewhere in their message, often the header or footer. As soon as you open an email, that image loads and transmits data that can help build a profile of your online behavior, including information about your location.

With MPP, Apple says, all remote content downloads in the background, regardless of whether you open an email or not. This renders any information gathered by those tracking pixels useless. Apple says it doesn’t learn anything about you in the process.

MPP also sends all remote content, including tracking pixels, through multiple proxy servers, preventing senders from learning your IP address, which could help them nail down your location. Instead, Apple’s proxy network will randomly assign an IP address that only gives away your general region. Apple says it doesn’t access your IP address either.

So if you don’t like being watched without your consent, turn on MPP. It might only close a minuscule window, but it’ll stop the flow of a substantial amount of information.