Understanding the Privacy Changes in iOS 17

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Apple recently launched its iOS 17 update on September 18, 2023. This new operating system is indicative of Apple's ongoing dedication to user privacy and its commitment to mitigating trackers that monitor user activity online.

What This Means for Digital Marketers:

  • The update is available for iPhone and iPad users as of September 18.
  • Early tests indicate that UTM parameters will remain unchanged, but commonly used auto-tagging parameters (e.g., gclids, dclids and fbclids) could be stripped. 
  • Email and SMS marketing channels are likely to experience the most significant alterations. 
  • Marketers should increasingly utilize UTMs instead of solely depending on auto-tagging for campaign tracking.

Delving Deeper into iOS 17's Privacy Features:

The Link Tracking Protection feature in Messages, Mail and Safari Private Browsing is gaining attention. Apple describes this feature as a mechanism to remove extra information from URLs that certain websites use to track users. This ensures that shared links in Messages and Mail remain functional while being devoid of tracking data.

This update has led many of our clients to wonder: will UTM parameters be removed? Which other parameters are affected? How will this influence campaign and attribution data in Google Analytics?

Although we are still in the relatively early days of the launch, preliminary research shows that Link Tracking Protection primarily impacts links with certain parameters shared in Apple's native apps and Safari Private Browsing. However, users can extend this protection to all Safari browsing through advanced settings.

Beta testing insights reveal that while UTM parameters remain unaffected, parameters like dclid, gclid and fbclid could be removed.

Interestingly, Apple’s main objective with this update isn't to obstruct click tracking entirely. Instead, the aim is to prevent the leakage of personal information, especially as platforms like Google and Facebook use specific tracking parameters to create comprehensive data models.

Keeping a Vigilant Watch:

Like any privacy change, it's crucial to monitor your data closely. Both Analytics and Marketing teams should be vigilant across various areas.

  • Analytics Teams: After downloading iOS 17, conduct tests on marketing URLs to understand Link Tracking Protection's influence. Watch out for any surge in 'direct' traffic for auto-tagged campaigns. Verify that links in Email or SMS campaigns remain functional. Collaborate and share findings to formulate a collective understanding.
  • Marketing Teams: With the potential impact on Email and SMS channels, it's imperative to prioritize UTMs for campaign tracking and attribution. Based on our current understanding, Google Ads bidding, which relies on GA4 conversions, remains unaffected.

In both scenarios, keep stakeholders informed about these developments. It's essential to be proactive in testing and understanding the real-world implications of iOS 17, especially as more users migrate to the new system.

Prepping For Privacy: 

Privacy considerations will continue to evolve. Stay informed and adaptive in this ever-evolving digital landscape. Conduct your own tests and share your experiences with the community. We value your feedback and insights! Here are a few additional privacy updates to consider in the near future:

  • Chrome's Stance on Third-Party Cookies: By the second half of 2024, Google will phase out third-party cookies. This shift necessitates strengthening first-party data collection methods and identifying viable alternatives for existing tracking practices.

  • Google’s Privacy Sandbox: Nearing a complete rollout, the Privacy Sandbox tool offers an alternative to third-party cookies on Desktop Chrome. The objective? Specialized advertising that minimizes compromises to consumer privacy.

If you have questions about enhancing your privacy preparations, please Contact Us for details.