Safari tracking IP address protection • Apple iOS 15


Wojtek Andrzejczak
Safari tracking IP address protection •...

With iOS 15, Safari will block trackers by hiding the user’s real IP address. But how exactly will it work? And what side effects could we expect to see in the campaign reports?

Before we start

The first developer release of the iOS 15 is here to look at how the future would look. However, please be advised that this is not a final version of iOS 15, and many functionalities can change during the testing period.

The example below does not include iCloud Plus service, which hides everything. This is a test use case of the basic functionality of the Safari, which each iPhone user will get with the next update.

iOS 15: Safari

First look

The first thing we notice is that the navigation bar is on the bottom (finally….), so you don’t have to do finger exercises to start typing the website.

iOS 15 / Safari / Main screen
iOS 15 / Safari / Main screen

Web Navigation screen

As soon as we tap on the navigation bar, we will see a keyboard to type the website we would like to visit and (I guess, no surprise here) the “Privacy Report” section right below the navigation bar.

We are getting informed about trackers detected and our identity hidden by masking our IP address.

iOS 15 / Safari / Privacy Report
iOS 15 / Safari / Privacy Report

Privacy Report: Websites

It is possible to click on the “Privacy Report” section. Then we will be introduced to the detailed report showing us recently visited websites and amount of detected trackers.

As they explained, Apple’s idea here is to give users an overview of websites and how intensively they are trying to track users. I can guess that websites with 40+ trackers on the list might look not good in the user’s eyes.

iOS 15 / Safari / Privacy Report / Blocked trackers on the websites
iOS 15 / Safari / Privacy Report / Blocked trackers on the websites

Privacy Report: Trackers

In the next tab called “Trackers”, we can check which services/domains Safari is bypassing by hiding user IP address.

iOS 15 / Safari / Privacy Report / Blocked trackers
iOS 15 / Safari / Privacy Report / Blocked trackers

Testing use case

Okay, so far (not) so good. But let’s think how we could verify impact of all those changes. How hiding/bypassing user IP would make an effect on the advertising/marketing reporting.

Setup

I’ve two iPhones, my own with iOS 14.6 and test iPhone with developer versions of iOS 15. Both devices are connected to my home WiFi network, so the external IP address for all services should be the same.

Test scenario

Having both phones connected to my local WiFi, I open on each phone my website once at a time, and I have checked in Google Analytics in the “Real-Time” section what “Location” has been detected. In the perfect case scenario, Google should show the same location, despite IP location accuracy.

Result

As no surprise, Google Analytics showed two different locations.

Uster is the city near my real location where I live, and I’d say, “ok, it is more or less accurate”. The location of Uster was generated by a visit made by my iPhone with the installed iOS 14.6.

Dietikon, is located in the far west part of Zürich and it was the location assigned to the visit made by iPhone with iOS 15.

Google Analytics test / Website visits
Google Analytics test / Website visits

Analyze and final thoughts

As you can see on the map, the distance between both locations is around 35km, and someone would say it’s not much. Well, in Switzerland, it makes a substantial difference.

Google Analytics test / Same WiFi, Same Visit, Different locations
Google Analytics test / Same WiFi, Same Visit, Different locations

The point here is that this use case proves that IP location targeting on iOS 15 users will have reduced usage because the reliability of the location accuracy will be abysmal. A fake IP will assign all trackers known to Apple so that the location will also be fake, and how could this be reliable at any point?

Geolocation (IP-based) targeting in Google Ads, GMP, Facebook for iOS users will have to be updated to cover bigger areas, like regions, states/kantons. Smaller areas might have under-delivery due to insufficient user reach.

Proximity (GPS-based) targeting could be a solution for this problem. However, Google would need to assure us that the IP address is not used as a part of the user’s location verification.

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Show Comments (5)

Comments

  • Anonymous

    hello, IP adress protection will be available with Privacy relay and not with all iOS15 devices right? i think it will be a premium service

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks for posting this research, very helpful to see some examples of exactly what to expect.
    I haven’t been able to reproduce these findings with iPhone safari and my employers third party pixels. Our pixel domain is listed on the “trackers” tab but I am seeing ‘raw IPs’ from my device. I have also seen that the IP is making it into the “bidStream” unchanged. Perhaps this is because I am in the US or because I am using an older iPhone7. Could it be that there are different levels of ‘ITP’ protection and only the biggest sites (like google) get the hidden IP treatment? Proxying a big chunk of advertising requests isn’t free and maybe they are economizing? Could also just be beta issues I suppose.

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    • Wojtek Andrzejczak

      This is the first iteration of the iOS 15, so not everything will work. I’ve checked Google because it is obviously against who this is targeted. With other pixels/platforms, let’s wait and check how the situation will look like with other pixels/platforms.

      • Article Author
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