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iOS 17: What Marketers Need to Know About Apple’s Link-Tracking Protection

Pawandeep Kaur, Content Marketing Manager @ Mapp
iOS 17: What Marketers Need to Know About Apple’s Link-Tracking Protection

Apple’s forthcoming iOS17 is set to enhance the users’ private browsing experience. This includes a new anti-tracking system, known as Link Tracking Protection, to prevent users from being tracked via hyperlinks.

These new efforts are the latest manifestation of Apple’s deeply held belief that privacy is a fundamental human right and that good privacy is built on a foundation of strong security,” states Apple.

But what does this mean for marketers? Well, this might make you nervous. After all, the last two updates have seen a clear shift towards prioritizing users’ data, which set a new set of marketing challenges.

The iOS story so far

Since iOS14’s release in 2020, Apple has made significant changes to protect user data. In Apple’s 2021 iOS15 release advanced privacy features meant users had more control over how their data was used. Email tracking was heavily affected in particular, with changes making it more difficult to track email open rates for those using Apple’s Mail app.

All this meant that marketers could no longer rely on open rate data to measure active users or click-to-open rate, reactivation activities, and other metrics. At the time, Mapp recommended several email marketing tracking tactics to help marketers move towards a more interaction-based tracking as a reliable alternative. Now, we’re here once more to provide you with guidance for navigating the iOS17 landscape.

What to expect in iOS17

Released alongside the new iPhone, iOS17 introduces more features around privacy. But before we dive into what exactly will affect marketers, here’s a quick rundown of other features being released:

  • Communication safety and sensitive content warnings
  • Group passwords that can be shared with family and friends
  • Expanded Lockdown Mode to provide greater protection from mercenary spyware.
  • Updated Check-in features
  • Name Drop to share contact details easily
  • Live Voicemail

The new features are designed with privacy and security front of mind. This is because Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right. According to Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, the company is “focused on keeping users in the driver’s seat when it comes to their data by continuing to provide industry-leading privacy features and the best data security in the world.”

But the main concern for marketers is likely to be the new anti-tracking system, Link Tracking Protection. 

How will Link Tracking Protection affect your marketing?

In iOS17, Apple’s Link Tracking Protection makes it more difficult to tie an interaction to a specific user and has been introduced to messages, mail, and Safari private browsing. So, what’s the big deal?

Some brands add extra user-identifiable parameters to their URLs to track users across websites, what they click on, and the journeys they take. However, iOS17 introduces an automatic process that detects and eliminates these parameters from links shared in messages, emails, and private browsing on Safari. It’s essential to understand that this doesn’t render the link non-functional; users can still access their intended destination via these links.

Additionally, it’s important to highlight that not all link parameters are filtered out, only those commonly used for cross-domain user tracking (e.g. “gclid”).

In practice, Link Tracking Protection looks like this:

A comparison between a link with and without Link Tracking Protection enabled. The one without has extra characters added, which track user behavior. The one with tracking protection has removed these extra characters.

Around 1 billion people use Apple’s Safari and it accounts for 32% of the mobile browser market. It’s understandable why these new features may cause some anxiety for marketers.

However, so far, Link Tracking Protection is only planned to affect Safari’s private browsing. The vast majority of users browse in normal mode, so the impact of this should be minimal for marketers. But it’s worth bearing in mind that more users are choosing to search the web in private or incognito modes; browsing this way now accounts for around 20% of web traffic. This means that a fifth of all internet users are thinking more about their privacy and data.

Now, what does this mean for your marketing? If your marketing is based around a first-party data strategy that’s compliant, you’re safe for now. But if you’re relying heavily on third-party data, now is more important than ever to rethink your approach.

The winning formula: Zero and first-party data

With iOS14, 15, and now 17, we’ve seen the move towards consent-first data collection and tracking. With these new changes, obtaining user consent will be key to your marketing strategy. Obtaining consent is important to not only help you identify customers but also foster trust amid privacy concerns. You can do this in two ways:

  1. Zero-party data: This is data that customers willingly share with you, which tends to be more detailed, e.g., preferences, interests, demographic information, and more. Gamification tactics are usually used here to capture data, such as games, quizzes,
  2. First-party data: This is data that your business collects about your customers and refers from CRM, DSP, eCommerce, POS, CMS, loyalty programs, and more. It’s more reliable, high-quality, and cost-effective as you collect yourself and own this data. Most browsers usually automatically accept first-party data cookies – but like every cookie, you’ll need the user’s consent first to be GDPR-compliant.


Those who have invested their resources in collecting data via email, SMS, and surveys should see the result of their efforts with this new update. With thousands of brands all vying for customers’ attention, the ones who stand out are those who have adopted a privacy-friendly approach. Build trusting relationships with your customers with transparent data collection and invest in collecting zero- and first-party data. Because gone are the days when brands tracked user activity whenever and however they wanted to target them with ads. You must be transparent and respectful of your users’ privacy.

The impact on your marketing

Thankfully the potential disruption caused by the iOS17 update will be relatively small for marketers. Especially if you’re already focused on zero- and first-party data collection. For tips on how to collect first-party data, check out Mapp’s first-party data guide with Usercentrics.

And if you’re a Mapp customer, you don’t need to worry. At Mapp, we don’t rely on user-identifiable URLs, so you are unlikely to be affected. But if you are concerned, the team will be happy to answer any questions.


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