_ Article

iOS 17: How Apple's Link Tracking Protection Will Impact Marketers' Daily Lives

Last June, at its annual WWDC conference, Apple announced the imminent arrival of a new feature that will once again impact marketers: Apple Link Tracking Protection. Scheduled to be integrated into iOS 17 and macOS Sonoma, this initiative marks another step towards protecting user privacy, while potentially disrupting traditional online behavior tracking practices.

As usual, Apple remained very vague during the conference about the exact consequences of this feature. Since June, many have tried to interpret the announcement to get a clearer picture. In July, Apple released a public beta version of iOS 17, allowing to carry out various tests and moving from theoretical interpretations to concrete facts. This is subject to possible adaptations between intermediate and final versions. At the end of September, iOS 17 was officially launched, and now it's time to observe the real consequences of the announcement.


Let's Start at the Beginning: What is Apple Link Tracking Protection?

In short, it's a new initiative by Apple aimed at protecting users by allowing greater privacy in their online activities. To do this, user-specific tracking query parameters are removed from the URL during browsing. This occurs in Messages, Mail, and Safari (in private browsing).

Apple's official announcement: "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" - https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2023/06/apple-announces-powerful-new-privacy-and-security-features/

Why This Initiative by Apple?

Apple Link Tracking Protection is part of a broader initiative by Apple to protect user privacy. It aims to give users better control over how their online activities are tracked and used.

We recall other recent initiatives in this direction, such as Mail Privacy Protection linked to the Apple Tracking Transparency framework.

In Practice, Who Are the Users Affected by Apple LTP?

Apple LTP will be automatically enabled on devices equipped with the new operating systems, iOS 17 and macOS Sonoma. This includes users of iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Since the end of September, these new versions have been available. Updates will not be immediate, but it is expected that they will rapidly gain ground over the coming months.

According to available data, Safari currently accounts for about 20% of the market share among internet browsers. As for private browsing, it seems to represent a still very limited volume of surfing.

What is the Impact on Marketers?

Generally, tracking parameters are pieces of information added to the end of a URL to track and analyze visitor behavior on a website. Marketers use these tracking parameters to understand how people interact with their website or advertising campaigns. Thanks to them, a marketer can identify, for example, where site visitors come from, the actions they perform online, etc.

The core of this new protection lies in the fact that Apple Link Tracking Protection automatically detects user-identifiable tracking parameters in URL links and removes them. In other words, shared links can no longer be used to track users from one site to another as precisely as before.

For example, a link before the protection looked like this: https://example.com/page?tracking_id=XYZ. After the protection, it will be simplified to https://example.com/page.

Some sources have published lists of parameters removed by Apple. Here is one:


According to this source, it appears that not all additional URL parameters are removed, confirming the idea that Apple's goal is more to prevent marketers from tracking specific individuals from site to site for targeting purposes, rather than limiting them in analyzing the results of their campaigns.

These conclusions, drawn from tests conducted on the Beta version of iOS 17, seem to be confirmed with the roll-out of the final version.

What About Email Marketing?

Generally, email marketing seems to be relatively unaffected by all this.

In reality, the impact appears to vary depending on the ESP (Email Service Provider) used and whether or not there is a redirection in the links. Indeed, in the case of redirection, LTP has no impact. Today, only a few ESPs seem not to use redirection to track links, thus greatly limiting the impact on email campaigns.

What is the Impact of LTP on Link Tracking in Campaigns Sent from Actito?

Great news: according to our tests on the BETA and final versions of iOS 17, there is none! Marketers still have access to the clicks made in their campaigns, to the interactions carried out by users through the campaigns. This applies to both email and SMS campaigns.

Also, Actito has a tracking system called "goal," which allows tracking an individual as they navigate a website. Here too, our conclusion is the same: we have observed no impact. However, this is something to monitor over time as Apple may continue to evolve LTP and expand the list of filtered parameters to make tracking more stringent. And for everything you need to know about goals, it's here: https://cdn3.actito.com/fe/actito-documentation/fr/docs/Goals

In Conclusion

From an Actito perspective, we are pleased to reassure marketers that LTP will not impact their use of the platform.

However, Apple Link Tracking Protection represents a further step towards a digital world more respectful of privacy, while forcing marketers to rethink their approach to online tracking. Apple has, once again, caused marketers to sweat throughout the summer, with an announcement that shakes up their mode of operation and forces them to reinvent themselves. All this can be seen as an additional opportunity to focus on and emphasize zero and first-party data (to learn all about these data, read this article from our friends at Qualifio).