Apple’s iOS 17 Link Tracking: How To Future-Proof Your Ads

Apple’s iOS 17 introduces Link Tracking Protection, automatically removing user tracking info from URLs in Mail, Messages, and Safari’s private browsing. This will impact how marketers track campaigns and here’s how they can adapt their strategies.

In June 2023, Apple unveiled a wave of new features during their Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), giving developers a glimpse into the future of iOS. Among the most significant announcements for digital marketers was Link Tracking Protection, a privacy-focused feature slated for the upcoming iOS 17 update.

Link Tracking Protection automatically removes certain user-identifiable information embedded within URLs. These bits of data, known as tracking parameters, are often used to track user behaviour across websites and build detailed profiles for targeted advertising. With iOS 17’s release in September, this feature will be automatically enabled within Apple Mail, Messages, and Safari’s private browsing mode.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The specific types of tracking parameters affected by LTP: Understanding what information is being stripped away will help marketers adjust their tracking methods.
  • The impact on campaign measurement and attribution: LTP will likely make it more challenging to track the success of marketing campaigns, particularly those relying heavily on user-specific data. We’ll explore alternative strategies to measure campaign effectiveness.
  • Potential workarounds and adaptations for marketers: Despite the challenges, there will still be ways to track user behaviour and campaign performance. We’ll discuss potential solutions marketers can adopt in this evolving privacy landscape.

By staying informed about Link Tracking Protection and its implications, marketers can begin to adapt their strategies and ensure continued success in a privacy-focused future.

iOS 17 Link Tracking Protection: How It Works

Apple’s new Link Tracking Protection in iOS 17 acts as a privacy guard for your online activity. Active by default in Mail, Messages, and Safari’s private browsing, it scans URLs for hidden tracking codes often added by companies like Google, Facebook, and affiliate platforms. 

These codes trace your online journey across websites. Link Tracking Protection then removes these codes, making it more challenging for companies to build detailed user profiles and target you with specific ads.

What Is The Impact Of Link Tracking Protection On Advertisers?

Apple’s Link Tracking Protection (LTP) throws a curveball at advertisers, making user behaviour tracking and campaign attribution trickier. While initial tests suggested a limited impact, the full release of iOS 17 with advanced fingerprinting protection raises the bar.

Here’s a breakdown of the challenges and potential solutions:


  • Stripped Identifiers: LTP removes automatically generated identifiers used by platforms like Google and Facebook, hindering their ability to track user journeys across websites and personalise ad targeting.
  • Attribution Difficulties: Measuring campaign effectiveness becomes more complex without granular user data. It’s harder to determine which ad or link led to a conversion.

Potential Solutions:

  • Focus on UTM Parameters: UTM parameters, which categorise traffic source, media type, and campaign details, remain unaffected. Utilise them strategically to understand overall campaign performance.
  • First-Party Data is King: Invest in collecting first-party data directly from users with their consent. This could include website behaviour, preferences, and demographics.
  • Contextual Targeting: Shift focus to contextual targeting, where ads are placed based on the content of a webpage instead of individual user data.
  • Server-Side Tracking: Consider server-side tracking solutions that operate on the advertiser’s server rather than the user’s device, potentially bypassing some LTP limitations. (Note: This approach has its own complexities and may not be a long-term solution.)

It’s important to remember that LTP primarily impacts links shared through Apple’s Mail, Messages, and Safari’s private browsing. Users engaging with platforms directly through their apps may still be trackable to some extent.

By adapting strategies and focusing on alternative tracking methods, advertisers can navigate the changing privacy landscape and continue delivering effective campaigns.

What Remains Untouched by Link Tracking Protection?

Link Tracking Protection makes it harder to track some things, but it doesn’t block everything. Here’s what you can still track easily:

  • Regular Browsing in Safari: LTP only activates in Safari’s private browsing mode. Users browsing websites normally will still have their activity tracked as usual.
  • UTM Parameters: UTM parameters are here to stay. These categorise traffic source, medium, and campaign details, allowing you to understand overall campaign performance unaffected by LTP.
  • Custom Parameters: Got a creative way to track user behaviour with unique parameters? As long as they’re not on Apple’s obsolete list, they’ll likely keep functioning.
  • Non-Apple Platforms and Apps: Engage with platforms like Facebook or Twitter directly through their apps bypasses LTP entirely. User activity within those apps can still be tracked according to their individual privacy policies.

It’s important to note that Apple maintains a list of known “tracking query parameters” targeted by LTP. This list can evolve, so staying informed about updates is crucial.

Link Tracking Protection: What’s Next for Advertisers?

Apple’s Link Tracking Protection (LTP) is a significant step towards user privacy, but it’s only the first act in a play with many scenes yet to come. Here’s a glimpse into the potential future and how advertisers can prepare:

Apple’s Rulebook Gets More Complex:

  • Expect stricter filtering: Apple is likely to refine its methods to strip tracking parameters. They might expand the list of targeted parameters and potentially develop AI that identifies unique identifiers disguised as non-standard custom tags.
  • Standard browsing may not be safe forever: While LTP currently focuses on private browsing, there’s a chance it could be extended to standard browsing in the future. Tracking parameters originating from Mail or Messages might start affecting standard browsing destinations as well.

Adapting and Thriving in a Privacy-First World:

The good news is that many platforms are already equipped with alternative tracking methods. Here’s how advertisers can get ahead of the curve:

  • Embrace privacy-focused solutions: Early adopters of server-side tracking, consent mode, and enhanced conversions will be well-positioned. These technologies prioritise user privacy while still allowing for effective campaign measurement.
  • Invest in first-party data: Building strong relationships with users and collecting their consent-based data (purchase history, preferences) will be crucial. This first-party data provides valuable insights without relying on third-party tracking.
  • Focus on contextual targeting: Matching ads to relevant content on web pages, rather than individual users, offers a viable alternative.
  • Stay informed and adaptable: Keep a close eye on Apple’s updates regarding LTP and adjust strategies accordingly.

By proactively embracing privacy-conscious methods, advertisers can continue delivering successful marketing campaigns. Remember, the future of advertising lies in building trust and providing value-driven experiences, not intrusive tracking.

Need a fresh perspective? Let’s talk.

At 360 OM, we specialise in helping businesses take their marketing efforts to the next level. Our team stays on top of industry trends, uses data-informed decisions to maximise your ROI, and provides full transparency through comprehensive reports.

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