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Apple Safari Privacy Cookie Features Praised

Apple’s move to add Intelligent Tracking Protection and close loopholes around third-party cookie-blocking in Safari has been praised by privacy advocates.

After six advertising trade associations released an open letter outlining their deep concerns over the cookie-handling functionality of Apple's new Safari 11 browser, saying it was “deeply concerned” about the Safari 11 update “as it overrides and replaces existing user-controlled cookie preferences with Apple's own set of opaque and arbitrary standards for cookie handling.”

The letter claimed that the “Intelligent Tracking Prevention" would change the rules by which cookies are set and recognized by browsers. In addition to blocking all third-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain other than the one being visited), the new functionality would create a set of haphazard rules over the use of first-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain the user has chosen to visit) that block their functionality or purge them from users' browsers without notice or choice.

“Apple's unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love,” the letter said. “Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful.

“Put simply, machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice; they represent browser-manufacturer choice. As organizations devoted to innovation and growth in the consumer economy, we will actively oppose any actions like this by companies that harm consumers by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations.”

However, a response by the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that while the advertising industry is trying to shift the conversation to what they call the economic model of the internet, “the conversation must instead focus on the indiscriminate tracking of users and the violation of their privacy.”

The EFF added: “Websites commonly use third-party tracking to allow analytics services, data brokerages, and advertising companies to set unique cookies. This data is aggregated into individual profiles and fed into a real-time auction process where companies get to bid for the right to serve an ad to a user when they visit a page. This mechanism can be used for general behavioral advertising but also for ‘retargeting’.

“In the latter case, the vendor of a product viewed on one site buys the chance to target the user later with ads for the same product on other sites around the web. As a user, you should be able to expect you will be treated with respect and that your personal browsing habits will be protected. When websites share your behavior without your knowledge, that trust is broken.”

The EFF praised Apple as “a powerful force in user privacy on a mass scale in recent years”, and while Safari's innovations are not the silver bullet that will stop all tracking, by stepping up to protect their users’ privacy, “Apple has set a challenge for other browser developers.”

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