Safari Browser Incorporates Intelligent Tracking Prevention

September 21, 2017  |  By Joel Odom

The new versions of the Safari web browser included with iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, both being released by Apple this month, include a new feature called Intelligent Tracking Prevention. Web browsers have long included the ability to prevent installation of tracking cookies from third-party advertisers, but disabling third-party cookies also blocks some useful web features, such as the ability to use third-party authentication. Intelligent Tracking Prevention tries to block unwanted tracking while retaining wanted third-party website interactions by learning users' behavior to determine which cookies are wanted and which are unwanted. A consortium of advertising companies criticized the feature, saying, "Apple's Safari move breaks [generally applicable] standards and replaces them with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the Internet."

IISP Analyst Joel Odom: "People care about privacy. There is enough smart writing by the likes of Bruce Schneier, Peter Swire, and Sherry Turkle that I don't need to rehash the value of privacy here, except to note that corporations like Google, Facebook, Equifax and Comcast certainly understand how to turn our personal habits into value.

Because consumers want a rich web browsing experience, full of valuable content and features, web sites have a legitimate need to remember some kind of state between clicks on the website.  Small bits of information pushed from websites to users' browsers, called cookies, are one of the main ways that websites maintain state. However, it's these same cookies, especially third-party cookies delivered from websites other than the one being visited, that not only keep track of activity on a particular website, but that are used to track consumers' long-term habits as they surf. This allows advertisers to build a dossier of a user's interests, habits, and other personal information.  It's almost as if advertisers had video cameras installed on your shoulder that allowed them to watch everything you do online. The analogy isn't perfect, but it gives you an idea of the power of unrestricted cookies.

Different security experts follow different practices when browsing the internet, depending on their personal balance between privacy and features. I've heard some experts say that they accept all cookies, but that they have their browser clear them every time they close the browser. I've heard others say that they disable cookies altogether. My approach is to use Chrome for web applications that I use routinely such as e-mail access, document sharing, banking, and applications for my job. I use Firefox in private browsing mode for general surfing, reading news, research, and other activities that generate a broad digital trail. My Firefox configuration clears my cookies every time I close the browser, and I manually keep my Chrome data clean by deleting cookies from time to time. This gives me a semi-permanent online persona (via Chrome) as well as an evanescent persona that is decoupled from what I do (via Firefox private browsing). The new Safari approach uses machine intelligence to achieve something similar without requiring as much manual attention."


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