The new tools are built into the Safari web browser on both iOS and Macs and will scramble the ‘digital fingerprint’ that companies use to track users and then sell to advertisers.
Unveiled at the company’s WWDC 2018 conference, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Craig Federighi called out data companies including Facebook, saying they were “clever and relentless” in their ability to track users.
The new features will be enabled in September when Apple releases iOS 12 and macOS Mojave.
How can companies track me?
The first way is through cookies. These are tiny packets of data that are stored on computer and used as a means of identifying us. They allow online stores to remember our shopping baskets, but they also allow companies to track our movements and even the way we behave online.
One of the ways that companies can use this to track us is through the social share buttons and comment boxes we see dotted around the web. The example that Apple used was the Facebook comments plug-in that allows you to comment on articles or on websites through a Facebook-powered comments system.
“It turns out that these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not.” Explains Federighi.
The other way is through something called ‘Fingerprinting’. This is a method of tracking where companies can create a digital fingerprint of your computer on the internet. It does this by compiling the fonts you use, the configuration of your computer and the plug-ins you have installed. Once combined these create a unique fingerprint that can then follow you around.
What’s Apple doing to stop this?
Regarding the cookies, share buttons and comment boxes, Apple announced that it’s “shutting that down” by issuing a pop-up warning every time a company tries to use those features to track you.
Regarding fingerprinting, Apple claims that it will drastically reduce the amount of information that it allows to be tracked, effectively scrambling a data company’s ability to track you.
It will disable older plug-ins that aren’t being used, provide only standard fonts and provide only a simplified set of system configurations.
“As a result, your Mac will look like everyone elses Mac and it will be dramatically more difficult for data companies to uniquely identify your device and track you.” Says Federighi.