At the 2023 WWDC, Apple announced the upcoming release of iOS 17, iPadOS 17 and macOS Sonoma.
These operating system updates include a range of security and privacy updates. There are some implications for email marketers to consider but in real-terms, only a very small percentage of people will be affected.
What is ‘Link Tracking Protection’?
Apple’s new privacy feature allows you to prevent cross-website tracking by removing known query string parameter such as the Google Click Identifier gclid e.g. http://somedomain.com?gclid=3b520212cd65d1cghf5c74f5
With this feature enabled, Safari will check for what Apple calls ‘known trackers’ embedded in the URL and, where detected, will strip the information from the URL while leaving any other parts of the query string intact.
Apple haven’t published its list of ‘known trackers’ so it’s advisable to run your own tests but parameters such Google Click Identifier (gclid), Facebook Click Identifier (fbclid) and Mailchimp Email ID (mc_eid) will all be stripped from URLs.
Other parameters such as Google Analytics (utm_campaign etc.) appear to be left untouched and your own custom parameters such as contacts_id do not appear to be affected either and will remain as part of the final URL.
How will this affect email marketing?
Tracking of clicks on links within emails will continue to operate as before although Apple may remove any ‘known trackers’ from the final URL after redirection has taken place.
As an example, clicks in emails are tracked using encoded links (Instiller and other ESPs using this approach) like the one below…
<a href=”https://clicks.somedomain.com/8a58df62c09d4785″>Click Here</a>
When the link is clicked in the Apple Mail app it will redirect to something like this in Safari…
Apple will detect that the gclid parameter is a ‘known tracker’ and it will be stripped from the URL meaning that the final URL that appears in the address bar of Safari will be…
Your own custom named parameters should be unaffected but the key thing to do here is test it out to ensure that the tracking you rely on still operates as intended once these Apple updates are rolled out live.
Nothing is set in stone and so there is always the chance Apple will make changes prior to releasing these updates but the Beta is available now (as of July 2023) and so it makes sense to get hold of that and to run your own tests.
In summary, there is the potential that these changes will affect email marketers but really, it will only be those who rely on cross-website tracking.
The number of email marketers affected will be reduced further because the recipient will not only need to have the feature enabled, they will also need to be using the Apple Mail app AND Safari as their default web browser.