Apple’s iOS 17 introduced two major privacy enhancements. These could pose limitations for the mobile advertising industry and reshape it big time, Link Tracking Protection and Privacy Manifests. The new features could significantly impact the industry’s ability to conduct user-level tracking, which has been a cornerstone of advertising strategies.

What is Link Tracking Protection?

So, how can we in the best possible way explain what link tracking protection is? Consider Link Tracking Protection as a sort of “bouncer” at a club, where the club represents a user’s personal data and online activity. In the past, advertisers (guests at the club) could walk in, identify individuals (users) by their unique badges (click IDs), and use this information to engage with them later.  With Link Tracking Protection, the bouncer removes these unique badges as guests enter the club. This doesn’t stop the guests from entering the club and interacting, but it does prevent them from knowing specifically who they’ve interacted with.  They can still observe the crowd and get a sense of the general behavior and preferences: ON the other hand the ability to track and target specific individuals based on their unique badge is lost. This gives the individuals inside the club a greater level of privacy. Also poses new challenges for the advertisers who can no longer easily identify and track those individuals.

How does Link Tracking Protection work?

To understand how Link Tracking Protection works, you should know that a typical URL, especially those linked with advertising campaigns, often contains important information embedded in it. These pieces of information are usually tucked away in what’s known as UTM-parameters, which are the parts of the URL after the “?” and separated by “&”. A standard URL might look something like this:  Assume you are running Web-to-App campaigns and your URL is looking like this:  UTM PARAMETERS CLICK ID These parameters serve a variety of purposes. They can denote the source of the click (e.g., a particular ad campaign on Google), the medium (e.g., a CPC – cost-per-click – ad), and a unique click ID for the user. When a user clicks on this link, the click ID and other information get sent to the ad platform, enabling it to track individual users’ interactions with their ads, thereby providing data for optimizing ad performance.

How does the Click ID change with Link Tracking Protection?

With the introduction of Link Tracking Protection in iOS 17, Apple’s Safari browser actively scans the URLs for these types of tracking parameters. When Click ID is detected, Safari “sanitizes” the URL by stripping out the identifiable component.  To continue with our earlier example, after Safari’s Link Tracking Protection does its job, the URL might look something like this:  UTM PARAMETERS no CLICK ID Did you notice the click ID had been removed? This makes it impossible for the ad platform to link the click to a specific user. The process is automated and happens in the background without any user intervention. It applies to URLs in Safari in Private Browsing mode, as well as in Mail and Messages applications, providing a uniform level of user-level tracking protection across these services.  It’s important to note that Link Tracking Protection is focused on user privacy and doesn’t disrupt the fundamental functioning of the URL or the user’s ability to reach their intended web page—it merely prevents the tracking of their online behavior at an individual level.

How does Link Tracking Protection Impact on advertisers?

Link Tracking Protection impacts us advertisers in several significant ways:

  1. Loss of Individual User Tracking:

With the removal of identifiers like click IDs, we, as advertisers, lose the ability to track individual user actions across websites. This hampers our ability to personalize ads based on user behavior and could lead to lower ad effectiveness.

  1. Impediment to Ad Attribution:

Advertisers often rely on click IDs to attribute a conversion (e.g., a sale, signup) to a specific ad click. Without these identifiers, it becomes more challenging to tie conversions to particular ads, making it harder to measure and optimize the ad performance due to less conversions being attributed.

  1. Decreased Optimization Potential:

Many ad networks use machine learning algorithms to optimize ad delivery based on past user behavior. By stripping click IDs and other user identifiers from URLs, Link Tracking Protection limits the data these algorithms can learn from, potentially reducing the effectiveness of ad delivery. Link Tracking Protection Privacy Manifest Impact

How does Link Tracking Protection Impact on users?

The impact of Link Tracking Protection on users largely revolves around privacy and user experience:

  1. Increased Privacy:

The most significant impact is the enhanced user privacy. By stripping identifiers like click IDs from URLs, Safari reduces the amount of personal data that advertisers can collect without the user’s explicit consent. This makes it harder for advertisers to track individual user activity across websites.

  1. Reduced Ad Personalization:

While increased privacy is generally seen as a positive, it comes with the trade-off of potentially less personalized online experiences. Advertisers have long used tracking data to tailor ads to individual users’ interests and behaviors. With Link Tracking Protection, users may see more generic ads that are less aligned with their preferences.

  1. Control Over Personal Data:

The increasing awareness around personal data usage users appreciate the control Link Tracking Protection gives them over their data. Users no longer need to rely on the discretion of advertisers to protect their privacy.

  1. Consistency Across Applications:

Link Tracking Protection applies not only to Safari but also to Mail and Messages applications. This consistent application gives users peace of mind, knowing that their privacy is protected across these services. Ultimately, Link Tracking Protection represents Apple’s ongoing commitment to user privacy. This might mean a shift in the type of ads users see but for some is a worthy trade-off for more control over their personal data.

How can advertisers adapt to the changes of Link Tracking Prevention?

First, let’s disclose there are no guarantees that will secure us having the Click ID’s. However, we can always seek to improve the data richness generated by our various marketing activities.  First party consented data: More advertisers will have to focus on collecting consented first-party data, also referred to as zero-party data. This involves collecting data directly from customers who have willingly provided it, often in exchange for personalized experiences or benefits. This data is extremely valuable as it is both accurate and entirely consented, thus meeting privacy requirements. Contextual Advertising:  In place of user-level targeting, advertisers can turn to contextual advertising, which involves displaying ads based on the content of the web page the user is viewing, rather than their past behavior. This approach aligns ads with users’ current interests, as inferred by the content they are consuming, while respecting privacy.

What are Apple’s Privacy Manifests?

Apple’s Privacy Manifest, formally named PrivacyInfo.xcprivacy, is a powerful new tool in iOS 17 for improving transparency around user data collection by apps and third-party Software Development Kits (SDKs).  This property list file records the types of data collected and their intended uses. This allows developers to generate privacy reports via Xcode and summarize this information. Third-party SDKs should provide their own Privacy Manifest files, making clear the data they collect. Developers’ Privacy Manifests don’t need to account for data collection by linked third-party SDKs. The Privacy Manifest also records specifics about the data types an app or third-party SDK collects. Each data type collected gets its own dictionary entry, with keys indicating the type of data, whether it’s linked to the user’s identity, used for tracking, and the reasons for collecting it. There are several predefined categories and types of data to choose from, contact info, health data, financial info and more. In short, Apple’s Privacy Manifest is a step forward in enhancing transparency around data collection, offering developers a clear way to disclose their app’s privacy practices while providing users with more insight into how their data is being used.

How does Privacy Manifests Impact on users?

Similar to Link Tracking Protection, Privacy Manifests enhance user privacy. Enhancement achieved by limiting the ways in which advertisers can track user behavior and link it to personal identifiers. Overall, iOS 17 is not as restrictive as iOS 14.5 when it comes to user-level tracking. The campaign parameters are still included in the URL. Equally important, the advertiser can still see at a user level where they came from. However, removing the click ID only impacts the ad platform’s or email provider’s visibility of what the user went on to do.

Future Implications of iOS 17 for Mobile Advertising

iOS 14.5 fully blocked user-level tracking for install ads on iOS without giving the industry enough warning. BUT iOS 17 still includes campaign parameters in the URL, which allows advertisers to see where users are coming from, it removes the click ID, affecting only the ad platform’s visibility of what the user did. This suggests that while iOS 17 imposes limitations, it doesn’t completely eliminate the ability to track user behavior. However, it’s an indication of the direction Apple is taking concerning user privacy, and future releases might impose further restrictions.. In summary, iOS 17’s privacy features pose significant limitations to the mobile advertising industry, particularly in user-level tracking, ad optimization, and measuring ad effectiveness. The industry may need to adapt. This can be done by focusing more on first-party data and finding new ways to measure and optimize ad campaigns.

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