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What does Apple Mail’s ‘Load Content Directly’ button do?

MacWorld logo MacWorld 2/3/2023 Mac World

The message “Unable to load remote content privately” may not offer enough advice on how to proceed even though a Load Content Directly button appears. But the explanation isn’t insidious. Rather, it’s part of how Apple continues to tighten the screws on those who attempt to track what you do without asking for your permission.

You will see this error starting in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey when you have Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature enabled and Apple can’t load remote content in an email message in a way that meets the bar of what it promises. (You can read more about Mail Privacy Protection in How to stop email read receipts in Apple Mail.)

This privacy feature allows Apple to load images on your behalf. Using a “proxy,” Apple retrieves images on its servers and then securely delivers them to your device. This prevents another party from obtaining your IP address, a unique internet address that can help identify your location. Apple also loads the images when you receive an email, so a sender can’t use that to determine whether or not you actually read a message, and they don’t know when and how often you may have read it. Effectively, all a marketer or other party can tell is that an Apple server received the message.

However, Apple can’t always pull off its proxy interception. The company says a virtual private network (VPN) connection can interfere, preventing it from forming the end-to-end connection required to deliver the image to your Mail app. Your ISP (or even the country in which you’re reading email) may have a network configuration that accidentally or intentionally prevents this from working, too. A too-savvy email marketing firm might also know to block Apple’s retrieval, trying to force you to load images directly.

In those cases, Apple wants you to know something is wrong, even if the software can’t diagnose the problem. The Load Content Directly button lets you view images, but Apple’s warning is that those images may provide location and behavioral signals to the sender.

If you don’t feel you need the privacy protection Apple affords or already use a VPN for some measure of privacy that interferes with Apple’s assistance, you can disable Mail Privacy Protection entirely:

・In iOS/iPadOS, go to Settings > Mail > Privacy Protection.

・In macOS, launch Mail and go to Mail > Preferences > Privacy.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Charlie.

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