Apple recently announced new privacy and security measures that will impact digital marketing. “Link Tracking Protection in Messages, Mail, and Safari Private Browsing” could preview soon, but a full release in iOS 17 will likely occur in September with the launch of the iPhone 15.
On its website, Apple described Link Tracking Protection:
Some websites add extra information to their URLs in order to track users across other websites. Now this information will be removed from the links users share in Messages and Mail, and the links will still work as expected. This information will also be removed from links in Safari Private Browsing.
Let’s break this down.
Tracking parameters are unique alphanumeric characters at the end of a URL. Analytics software can then read those parameters to know more about users who clicked on that link, such as where they clicked from (the source), the campaign they responded to, and their behavior.
Urchin Tracking Modules — UTMs — are standard tracking parameters. Google Analytics supports them by default. Common UTM parameters are:
- Source (utm_source) identifies the source of the traffic.
- Medium (utm_medium) identifies the type of traffic, such as email, search, or ads.
- Campaign (utm_campaign) identifies the specific marketing campaign.
- Content (utm_content) is helpful in A/B testing.
Here’s a URL with a UTM parameter before Link Tracking Protection:
And here it is after Link Tracking Protection:
The links will continue to function, but Apple will remove the tracking parameters.
Impact on Consumers
Protection from link tracking. Apple will automatically remove tracking info from URLs when users share links over Mail and Messages or use Safari’s Private Browsing mode. Apple explains it in this video.
Improved privacy. In the latest Safari 17, Apple has added privacy features to Private Browsing mode. These include:
- Blocking known trackers and fingerprinting techniques,
- Mitigating trackers that map subdomains to third-party IP addresses,
- Blocking known tracking query parameters in links,
- Introducing “noise” to API “fingerprints” and
- Providing console log messages when blocking requests.
Impact on Marketers
Marketers are rightly concerned about the impact of Link Privacy Protection on email campaigns and digital tracking.
A few industry colleagues have tested the impact on the internal tracking methods of email service providers, which sometimes rely on parameters.
For example, LPP breaks Marketo’s “view a webpage” functionality as it contains a mkt_tok parameter. Likewise, Eloqua applies tracking scripts to the destination of properties. LPP would break that, too.
Apple apparently has a QUERY_PARAM.wplist file that contains a list of URL parameters to be removed. PrivacyTests.org provided the file to some industry practitioners.
Steve Atkins is co-founder of Words to the Wise, an email consultancy. His tests confirm the removal of many parameters.
Privacy vs. Performance
Apple’s new privacy and security measures, including Link Tracking Protection, will impact digital marketing. The changes are commendable from a user privacy standpoint, but marketers must adjust. Start with understanding how email service providers track clicks. Some ESPs, to be sure, do not rely on parameters. Regardless, balancing user privacy and marketing performance is paramount now and moving forward.