Firefox recently announced that they are offering users a choice on whether or not to include tracking information from copied URLs, which comes on the on the heels of iOS 17 blocking user tracking via URLs. The momentum of removing tracking information from URLs appears to be gaining speed. Where is this all going and should marketers be concerned?
Is it possible that blocking URL tracking parameters in the name of privacy will become a trend industrywide?
Firefox recently announced that beginning in the Firefox Browser version 120.0, users will be able to select whether or not they want URLs that they copied to contain tracking parameters.
When users select a link to copy and click to raise the contextual menu for it, Firefox is now giving users a choice as to whether to copy the URL with or without the URL tracking parameters that might be attached to the URL.
Screenshot Of Firefox 120 Contextual Menu
According to the Firefox 120 announcement:
“Firefox supports a new “Copy Link Without Site Tracking” feature in the context menu which ensures that copied links no longer contain tracking information.”
Browser Trends For Privacy
All browsers, including Google’s Chrome and Chrome variants, are adding new features that make it harder for websites to track users online through referrer information embedded in a URL when a user clicks from one site and leaves through that click to visit another site.
This trend for privacy has been ongoing for many years but it became more noticeable in 2020 when Chrome made changes to how referrer information was sent when users click links to visit other sites. Firefox and Safari followed with similar referrer behavior.
Whether the current Firefox implementation would be disruptive or if the impact is overblown is kind of besides the point.
What is the point is whether or not what Firefox and Apple did to protect privacy is a trend and if that trend will extend to more blocking of URL parameters that are stronger than what Firefox recently implemented.
I asked Kenny Hyder, CEO of online marketing agency Pixel Main, what his thoughts are about the potential disruptive aspect of what Firefox is doing and whether it’s a trend.
“It’s not disruptive from Firefox alone, which only has a 3% market share. If other popular browsers follow suit it could begin to be disruptive to a limited degree, but easily solved from a marketers prospective.
If it became more intrusive and they blocked UTM tags, it would take awhile for them all to catch on if you were to circumvent UTM tags by simply tagging things in a series of sub-directories.. ie. site.com/landing/<tag1>/<tag2> etc.
Also, most savvy marketers are already integrating future proof workarounds for these exact scenarios.
A lot can be done with pixel based integrations rather than cookie based or UTM tracking. When set up properly they can actually provide better and more accurate tracking and attribution. Hence the name of my agency, Pixel Main.”
I think most marketers are aware that privacy is the trend. The good ones have already taken steps to keep it from becoming a problem while still respecting user privacy.”
Some URL Parameters Are Already Affected
For those who are on the periphery of what’s going on with browsers and privacy, it may come as a surprise that some tracking parameters are already affected by actions meant to protect user privacy.
Jonathan Cairo, Lead Solutions Engineer at Elevar shared that there is already a limited amount of tracking related information stripped from URLs.
But he also explained that there are limits to how much information can be stripped from URLs because the resulting negative effects would cause important web browsing functionality to fail.
“So far, we’re seeing a selective trend where some URL parameters, like ‘fbclid’ in Safari’s private browsing, are disappearing, while others, such as TikTok’s ‘ttclid’, remain.
UTM parameters are expected to stay since they focus on user segmentation rather than individual tracking, provided they are used as intended.
The idea of completely removing all URL parameters seems improbable, as it would disrupt key functionalities on numerous websites, including banking services and search capabilities.
Such a drastic move could lead users to switch to alternative browsers.
On the other hand, if only some parameters are eliminated, there’s the possibility of marketers exploiting the remaining ones for tracking purposes.
This raises the question of whether companies like Apple will take it upon themselves to prevent such use.
Regardless, even in a scenario where all parameters are lost, there are still alternative ways to convey click IDs and UTM information to websites.”
Brad Redding of Elevar agreed about the disruptive effect from going too far with removing URL tracking information:
“There is still too much basic internet functionality that relies on query parameters, such as logging in, password resets, etc, which are effectively the same as URL parameters in a full URL path.
So we believe the privacy crackdown is going to continue on known trackers by blocking their tracking scripts, cookies generated from them, and their ability to monitor user’s activity through the browser.
As this grows, the reliance on brands to own their first party data collection and bring consent preferences down to a user-level (vs session based) will be critical so they can backfill gaps in conversion data to their advertising partners outside of the browser or device.”
The Future Of Tracking, Privacy And What Marketers Should Expect
Elevar raises good points about how far browsers can go in terms of how much blocking they can do. Their response that it’s down to brands to own their first party data collection and other strategies to accomplish analytics without compromising user privacy.
Given all the laws governing privacy and Internet tracking that have been enacted around the world it looks like privacy will continue to be a trend.
However, at this point it time, the advice is to keep monitoring how far browsers are going but there is no expectation that things will get out of hand.