What does Apple Mail’s ‘Load Content Directly’ button do?
The “Unable to load remote content privately” message may not offer enough advice on how to proceed, even though a Load content directly button appears. But the statement is not treacherous. Rather, it’s part of how Apple continues to screw in those who try to monitor what you do without asking your permission.
You’ll see this error starting with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey when you’ve enabled Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature and Apple can’t load external content into an email message in a way that fulfills the promise. (You can read more about Mail Privacy Protection in Stop Email Read Receipts in Apple Mail.)
This privacy feature allows Apple to load images on your behalf. Using a “proxy,” Apple retrieves images from its servers and then delivers them securely to your device. This prevents another party from obtaining your IP address, which is 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’ve read a message, and they don’t know when or how many times you’ve read it. In fact, a marketer or other party can only see that an Apple server has received the message.
However, Apple can’t always succeed in intercepting proxies. The company says a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection can interfere, allowing it to form the end-to-end connection needed to send the image to your Mail app. Your ISP (or even the country you read email in) may have a network configuration that accidentally or intentionally prevents this from working. An overly savvy email marketing company might also know how to block Apple’s fetching, 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 can provide location and behavioral cues to the sender.
If you think you don’t need the privacy protections Apple offers or if you already use a VPN for a level of privacy that interferes with Apple’s help, you can turn off Mail Privacy Protection completely:
- In iOS/iPadOS, go to Settings > Mail > Privacy protection.
- In macOS, launch Mail and go to Mail > Preferences > Privacy.
This Mac 911 article is an answer to a question from Macworld reader Charlie.
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