Apple iOS 17, Safari 16.4, & the Tale of the Disappearing Link Tracking

Jun 22, 2023
Written by CJ

Apple recently sent another round of shockwaves through the digital marketing industry when they announced that iOS 17 will have a new privacy feature that strips tracking from links.

In addition to this update, Apple made an earlier April 2023 announcement about new ITP restrictions for Safari 16.4 that places time limits on server-set first-party cookies. Here’s what CJ clients need to know.


What are the details of Apple’s iOS 17 announcement?

The 2023 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC23) was held at the beginning of June and with it came a number of new feature announcements across all of Apple’s products, including enhancements to WebKit and Safari 17 (currently in beta, launching Fall 2023).

One new privacy-focused feature for iOS 17 places increased limitations on cross-site tracking for Safari’s Private Browsing Mode as well as the Mail and Messages apps. Apple announced that this feature will remove tracking query parameters that are appended to links clicked by users. Appending parameters to URLs is a technique commonly used to enable analytics on the website consumers are navigating to when they click through links in emails, on ads, or in content that links out to other websites.


What will CJ do to prepare for these new iOS 17 tracking changes?

In short, we plan to test the features released by Apple and determine if changes to our existing solutions are necessary.

Update as of 7/18/23:

After conducting extensive testing, we're pleased to share that no adverse effects are anticipated on CJ or client tracking with the initial release of iOS 17 and Safari 17.

Our tracking solutions are constantly evolving as web browsers continue to roll out changes like the ones announced in June, and we’re focused on providing resilient solutions to our publishers and advertisers. We encourage you to make sure you’re using our best-in-class tracking solutions like CJ's Universal Tag and Publisher Tag.


What has CJ done to “future-proof” tracking against ITP and constant changes from Apple?

CJ has a future-forward approach to tracking, and we’ve worked to strike a balance between solutions that are easy to integrate and solutions that will be resilient as the restrictions placed on web technology continue to multiply. We’ve created integration solutions that provide layers of coverage in capturing the data that’s necessary to pay partners for CPA campaigns and understand campaign performance.

We’ve also taken the approach to implement tracking solutions on both the advertiser side (CJ’s Universal Tag) and the publisher side (CJ’s Publisher Tag). By capturing customer journeys using first-party data and first-party cookies on both the advertiser and publisher websites, we’ve become less and less reliant on restricted technologies like third-party cookies. We expect Chrome to implement similar solutions to what we’ve seen in Safari, and with Chrome’s market share being about 65%, we’re laser-focused on being prepared for changes they intend to roll out.


What about Safari’s (16.4) ITP restrictions announced April 2023? What makes CJ’s integration uniquely future-proof?

First, some context. In November 2020, Apple introduced limitations on cookies set using CNAME cloaking. CNAME cloaking is commonly used to allow third parties to set cookies using HTTP responses in the first-party domain (these would be server-set first-party cookies). In April of this year, Apple updated this feature to also include limitations on cookies set via HTTP responses from third-party IP addresses. Both of these techniques to create server-set first-party cookies have been around for a while and require minimal effort to set up between a site owner and the tech partner they’re working with. However, they’ve always been detectable by web browsers and adblockers, and it was only a matter of time before these techniques were targeted by tracker-blocking solutions like Safari’s ITP.

At CJ, we chose not to use either of these techniques for our own tracking solutions for this exact reason. We know that when our clients need to make tracking changes, it can be a big ask. Part of our process for developing tracking solutions is research into what future changes we predict could impact our solutions. We provide a range of options for our clients that vary in the level of effort it takes to integrate. Our best-in-class tracking solution uses a proxy that requires a bit more effort to implement but is not impacted by solutions that target detectable third-party tracking.


How worried should the industry really be about these changes?

While the ITP restrictions that Apple rolled out in April caused headaches for providers using third-party IPs to set first-party cookies, these types of changes shouldn’t be a surprise to the industry. For years we’ve been experiencing these updates from major browsers like Safari, Firefox, and Edge, VPNs, ISPs, and adblockers. Chrome recently announced their first concrete move toward deprecating third-party cookies, where they plan to remove third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users in Q1 2024. These changes will continue to happen, and we all need to continue on our path of protecting and future-proofing tracking.


How worried should CJ clients be?

This depends greatly on how your program is integrated. If you’re already set up with CJ’s most up-to-date tracking solutions, you’re fine. If you haven’t updated your tracking integration, the time is now (especially with Q4 around the corner)! 

Tracking integrity is essential to a healthy affiliate program and affects publisher relationships, opportunities, and program growth. These “silent” changes that disrupt tracking integrity have been happening for a while and will only continue. Read on to learn more about the ideal integrations and how to upgrade.


CJ’s Ideal Advertiser Integration: Universal Tag with Reverse Proxy

CJ advertisers that are integrated with our Universal Tag with Reverse Proxy and a backup tracking method are safe and are in the best position to optimize performance with partners. We encourage you to make sure you’re using our best-in-class tracking solutions.

Ready to upgrade your tracking to CJ’s Universal Tag? First things first: Review the Universal Tag Integration Overview with your development team and secure the dedicated resources to complete this update. Once you’ve successfully nailed down the team to start the work, file a support ticket through CJ’s Support Center to receive the necessary IDs specific to your program.  


Publishers Can Safeguard Tracking with CJ’s Publisher Tag

Of course, these changes also affect our publisher partners, and we’re truly invested in future-proofing the entire channel. We’re thrilled to bring publishers control, compliance, and future-proofed tracking accuracy with our Publisher Tag solution. We have multiple integration methods available that align with the way you’re set up, with even more options on the way!

CJ’s Publisher Tag currently supports publishers that place links directly on their website, i.e. content sites, as well as publishers that serve links via JavaScript, i.e. those that serve links via an interstitial page. Additional integration methods will be coming in the near future.

To learn more about CJ’s Publisher Tag integration, visit our Developer Portal. For questions, integration inquiries, or to speak to a Client Integration Engineer, file a support ticket using the following information: Case Reason > Publisher Tracking; Sub Reason > Tracking Review.

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