Most Mac, iPhone, and iPad users are wedded to Safari as their browser of choice; even more so than privacy villain Google Chrome. There are better choices, of course– the latest Firefox on the Mac is a good example.
Apple, though, is not standing still and just added new privacy tools to WebKit, the engine that drives Safari. What’s coming? The ability to provide advertisers and marketers with click link attribution but without the ability to identify or profile the user. That is huge. But not huge enough.
Apple could follow Mozilla’s Firefox or Brave or other browsers which block ad trackers and analytics trackers by default. That would be easy but Apple gets paid billions of dollars a year to put Google as Safari’s default search engine, so any steps that mitigate Google’s advertising dominance must be baby steps.
John Vilander explains the WebKit team’s approach to tracking:
The combination of third-party web tracking and ad campaign measurement has led many to conflate web privacy with a web free of advertisements. We think that’s a misunderstanding. Online ads and measurement of their effectiveness do not require Site A, where you clicked an ad, to learn that you purchased something on Site B. The only data needed for measurement is that someone who clicked an ad on Site A made a purchase on Site B.
In simpler terms, advertisers and online retailers need to have some tracking, but not the kind that tracks browser users from one website to another.
These changes to WebKit likely are changes that will show up in a future version of Safari. I see four basic points that make up a big change for Apple.
- Users should not be uniquely identified across websites for the purposes of ad click attribution.
- Only websites that users visit should be involved in measuring ad clicks and conversions.
- The browser should act on behalf of the user and do its best to preserve privacy while reporting on ad click attribution.
- The browser vendor should not learn about the user’s ad clicks or conversions.
These are important steps, but baby steps compared to where Mozilla’s Firefox is now. Still, Safari users will have a a firewall of sorts to protect their online privacy.
Our solution avoids placing trust in any of the parties involved — the ad network, the merchant, or any other intermediaries — and dramatically limits the entropy of data passed between them to prevent communication of a tracking identifier.
Trust no one. I like it.
You can see the new features in Safari Technology Preview 82 and beyond.