Apple has talked about the privacy of users a lot in the last couple of years, and in the recent months, especially with the world alarmingly looking at the way Google and Facebook utilise user data, the company has highlighted again and again that it cares for the private data of its users. At WWDC 2018 while it introduced new features in the iOS 12 and the MacOS Mojave, Apple took a direct – and quite a nasty – swipe at Facebook and Google. It said that Safari in iOS 12 and macOS Mojave would come with updated privacy protection, which would not only block intrusive cookies but also plug-ins such as Facebook’s Like button that could be used to track internet users.
In fact, Apple was fairly forthcoming in calling out the practices of “data companies”, practices that put or weaken privacy of users, at its developer event.
Craig Federighi, Apple’s head of software engineering, was direct in saying that Facebook tracks users sneakily with its Like button. “We’ve all seen these like buttons and share buttons,” he said. “These can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not. So this year, we’re shutting that down.”
Federighi demoed that the new Safari would catch the likes of Facebook that track users on third-party websites and block them unless users agreed to a prompt. So for example, if you are browsing the website of your favourite Pizza chain which has Like and Share buttons embedded on the page, Safari in macOS Mojave will show you a prompt asking you whether you want Facebook.com to track you or not, and if you say no the Facebook related plugins will not be loaded on the page.
The prompt also has been created in a way that makes it clear to users that they are being tracked by websites like Facebook. This move alone will make many groan at the social media site, because even though a lot of people know that websites like Facebook and Google track them throughout the internet, most don’t. But when a prompt ask users whether they want to be tracked or not in no uncertain language, most are going to say no.
One more method in which Apple hopes to hit out at the ad empire of Google and Facebook is the way it hopes to eliminate tracking of users that happens even when users are not logged into Facebook or Google websites. The cookies and plug-ins used by various companies often tracks internet users by uniquely identifying their computers using information such as an IP address, location, time of the day, plug-ins installed in the browser, system hardware details etc. But Apple said that the macOS will hide most of this information from websites. The idea, Federighi said, would be make your Mac look like all the other Macs. This would make it very hard for companies like Facebook and Google to serve personalised ads.
While Apple is declaring a war on the internet ad industry, the impact it will have will depend a lot o what other web browsers do. Safari is not a very popular browser, even on the Mac computers. A lot of people nowadays use Google’s Chrome and Firefox. Yet, Apple’s move is significant because this is first time a browser maker has come out with tools that can make real difference to user privacy. And while chances are that Google’s Chrome will not be following Safari’s lead on this matter, it is possible that Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox may do. In particular if Firefox joins the trend, it will even put pressure on Chrome to offer similar tools, or at least will start a bigger conversations on how internet users are tracked on the web without their permission.