Will Safari 17 Impact Your Marketing?

With the launch of Safari 17, do you know how it will effect your marketing?

Will Safari 17 Impact Your Marketing?
Written by
Matt Bentley
Published on
July 14, 2023

If you are an Apple fan or follow the latest trends in data privacy, you may have seen the Apple WWDC23 keynote on 5th June, 2023 where Apple previewed the new OS for Mac, iPhones and iPads (macOS Sonoma, iOS 17 and iPadOS 17 respectively), rumoured for release in mid September this year.

They are always great, glossy events, with lots covered.

One particular feature caught our eye which relates to Safari 17, Apple's web browser. In the upcoming release, they have a feature called Enhanced Private Browsing, which removes tracking data from the url as you browse in private mode.

Enhanced Private Browsing

"Private Browsing now locks your private browsing windows when you're not using them, completely blocks known trackers from loading on pages and removes tracking added to URLs as you browse." - source Apple

Let's take a step back first

Before we look into Safari 17, let's back up for a minute. Apple are known data privacy advocates, and this features heavily in all their presentations and built into their products by design.

Safari 16 already has a number of data privacy features using Intelligence Tracking Prevention (ITP) which was developed by WebKit. WebKit has been implementing tracking prevention technologies since 2003 with Safari 1.0.

The latest version live today, ITP 2.2 has reduced cookie life to one day (seven days on ITP 2.1) but only if the following two conditions are met:

  1. A domain classified with cross-site tracking capabilities was responsible for sending the user to the current webpage (e.g. Google and Facebook).
  2. The destination URL of the navigation has a query string and/or a fragment identifier.

So what else is going to happen in Safari 17 with tracking URLs?

According to this Apple press release titled ‚Apple announces powerful new privacy and security features‚ we get some more information.

Link Tracking Protection in Messages, Mail, and Safari Private Browsing
Some websites add extra information to their URLs in order to track users across other websites. Now this information will be removed from the links users share in Messages and Mail, and the links will still work as expected. This information will also be removed from links in Safari Private Browsing.

So tracking links and cross-domain tracking will be impacted in Safari 17, but how?

We did some testing to see what happens in Safari 17 Beta

Armed with macOS Sonoma Beta, an early release for testing, we checked a few different scenarios to see what happens to the tracking parameters in the URL when clicking across domains.

The results

The scenarios below describe what action we took and the URL query parameter we were interested in observing across Safari 16.5 (in live today) and Safari 17 in both regular and private mode. The query parameter is the data used for tracking and reporting. We had a look at the landing page URL following the click.

So, at the time of testing and specifically private mode in Safari 17, Google organic search paid ad clicks, GA4 cross domain tracking, clicks out out of Facebook, and user specific parameters in Mailchimp, look to be impacted, whereas Adobe Analytics with cross domain tracking does not.

GA UTM and Mailchimp campaign tracking parameters look OK as they will be seen to aggregate campaign success.

It is important to note that these results could change anytime including when Safari 17 is launched from beta to live. Given WebKit uses machine learning classifications, this could be early days in what is and what is not removed from the URL.

And the impact of Enhanced Private Browsing?

Well, user level click tracking used by Google and Facebook which appear to be blocked will impact any re-marketing, conversion and attribution activity.

The sample size for modelling data for will also reduce, probably having the result of an increased focus on data clean rooms which rely on aggregated data.

As the Safari market share for all versions is 21%, globally, and 33% in the UK, of which private mode is estimated to be at about 20% of this, so just over 16% of UK traffic. (Data as at July 2023)

In addition, Apple has said they are also removing the tracking parameters from links shared in Apple Mail and Messages so this could have a higher impact.

Depending on the size of your online presence, 16% of your UK traffic could run into hundreds of thousands of visitors. If you have multiple domains under your brand, fragmented tracking technology, and your marketing strategy relies on visitor based tracking, the impact can vary greatly on your business.

With 3rd party cookie blocking, limits on first party cookies and now cross domain tracking impact, It is a great time to start to audit and investigate how your business will be impacted if you haven't already done so.

Let's recap

Data privacy is not going away, and will only grow stronger as tracking technologies adapt.

Could the default setting on browsers become private mode in the future as data privacy becomes a competitive advantage?

Your business will need to adapt if you want to invest in those channels which result in higher ROI but within the limits of protecting data privacy you will need to re-define your measurement strategy, or even consider a Customer Data Platform (CDP) to enable modelling with AI and predictive analytics for a 360 degree view of your customers.

If your business needs to transform your Analytics or MarTech activity, or just figure out how to operate in a cookie-less world, do get in touch with us at Loop Horizon as we'd be happy to show you how we can provide support.  

Don't forget to follow us on LinkedIn.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is not to call out any specific company, as we haven't tested other search engines, social media or CRM tools. All of these will probably be impacted in some way or another. Instead, this is just commentary on observations we have seen and the potential impact on businesses and their marketing activities.


1 https://blog.gitnux.com/browser-user-statistics/  

2 https://gs.statcounter.com/browser-market-share/all/united-kingdom