Grant Cooper

Founder at Cometly

June 22, 2023

5 minute read

Guarding the Stars: Navigating iOS 17's Link Tracking Shield

Unveiling iOS 17's Link Tracking Shield: Implications for marketers

The latest offering from Apple, iOS 17, comes bundled with a novel feature called Link Tracking Shield. This functionality automatically deletes user-specific tracking parameters from URLs, making it a bit more challenging to trace users' online activities and identify conversion pathways or sales-contributing channels. However, it's not a total roadblock, just a minor speed bump on the digital highway.

How Does Link Tracking Shield in iOS 17 Function?

Apple's Link Tracking Shield is switched on by default in the built-in Mail app, Messages, and Safari's Incognito mode. It identifies user-specific tracking parameters in link URLs and eliminates them. These parameters are often embedded into links by platforms like Google, Facebook, and some affiliate services to track users' interactions throughout their purchase cycle. The removal of these parameters will make it a bit trickier for these platforms to monitor users' digital behavior.

What Does iOS 17 Mean for Marketers?

The typical UTM parameters that you add to your links will remain unaffected by this update. Such UTMs are not unique personal identifiers but provide collective directional data about the user's journey before arriving at your website. These include the source, medium, campaign, etc.

The twist in the tale is that iOS 17 will influence Google Analytics' capability to track your Google Ads, Meta's tracking of Facebook Ads, and Facebook’s Conversion API. Google and Meta depend on click IDs (also known as "fbclid" and "gclid,"), which are auto-generated and tagged with unique identifiers. But rest assured, the situation is far from a doomsday scenario.

What this really means is that if you are currently relying on Google Analytics and/or the native ads managers conversion data - you are going to experience even worse attribution data because the native platforms heavily rely on their native click ids.

Who is Unaffected by iOS 17?

The impact of this update will primarily be on users who are browsing in Safari's private-mode, Apple’s built-in Mail app, and Messages. Therefore, a host of online shopping features will remain unaffected by iOS 17, such as:

  * Non-Safari browsers like Chrome or Firefox 

  * Regular Safari browsing 

  * Some Standard UTM parameters 

  * Custom parameters such as “comet_source”

Is Apple's Marketing Team in the Same Boat?

Interestingly, Apple's marketing team seems to be sailing in the same waters. Upon examining their marketing strategies, we noticed that Apple, too, makes use of UTMs. We anticipate that it's only a matter of time before Apple might decide to remove all UTMs, forcing us all to adapt. Until then, if you've been relying heavily on Google Analytics and Facebook for performance reporting, it's high time to explore alternative attribution solutions.

How Does This Affect Cometly's Attribution?

In a nutshell, this update will NOT impact Cometly's attribution at all. 

We've been using alternative techniques to monitor user activity that don't involve auto-tagging unique identifiers to links. Your Cometly UTMs will also remain unaffected. We're staying vigilant for any changes and are continually seeking solutions to any potential issues that might arise, ensuring the safety of our customers and their businesses.

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