News

POV: Apple’s Safari Update Introduces Further Privacy Measures

Background:

Apple’s latest Safari update has introduced further privacy measures aimed at making users more aware of data that websites may be trying to access and ultimately giving them control over whether they are happy to share it.

Details and Implications:

The newest version of Safari will include prompts whenever a user visits a website and attempts to access your cookies or other data and give the user the choice whether to share their information or not.  “Fingerprinting” techniques – how a website gathers various smaller pieces of information on a user to build up a general identifying persona such as the fonts they have installed, and the plug-ins they run - will similarly take a hit with Safari deleting some of this data.

Facebook has been highlighted in this update since it tracks users across a vast number of websites with its various social plugins, for example the ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons.  According to Apple, users visiting a website with one of Facebook’s plugins implemented will receive a popup asking them if they want Facebook to track their activity whilst on the website. If the user declines this may hinder Facebook’s ability to track users to subsequently target them or attribute purchases they have made back to Facebook advertising.

Facebook has responded saying that it expects some tracking impact across websites with a slight decrease in events reported by the Facebook Pixel. Whilst decreases are anticipated to be small, conversion data and website custom audiences will likely be included in this decrease so it will be interesting to see the full extent. “Fingerprinting” concerns will be less of a problem for Facebook as it doesn’t track specific fonts, screen sizes, etc. that other companies might do. When a user opens Safari, they will go through an additional confirmation screen to use Facebook’s social plugins, although it is unclear what would happen if these permissions were not agreed to by the user.

Summary:

There is still a lot of detail missing from the current press release by Apple. Whilst some media outlets have suggested these are fundamental changes to online advertising, the response from Facebook so far has suggested a more muted impact. Exactly how users opt in or out and the extent of the impact on the Facebook Pixel seems unclear. The most recent round of updates to Facebook’s privacy policy haven’t caused significant backlash or user abandonment, so we can assume that the likely outcome of this update will see swathes of users accepting the Ts&Cs and continuing to browse the web as before. However, it does follow an increasing trend of web browsers (e.g. Chrome and Firefox) introducing enhanced anti-tracking or ad blocking technologies.

Further Reading:

BBC / CNET / Wired