08 June 2017

Privacy News: “Apple Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention can not prevent tracking”

Furthermore, whereas Apple’s approach to tracking scripts with Safari is welcomed - it would be incredibly naïve to believe that this technology can stop online tracking and here is why. Blocking third party scripts (no matter how intelligently) is addressing a problem from 2008 – it does little to address the problems we face in 2017 and beyond. You see, the adtech industry started to move away from third party technologies some time ago in an attempt to circumvent changes to the European ePrivacy Directive (2002/58/EC) in 2009 which outlawed the use of third party tracking technologies without consent. Those who seek to exploit our privacy and track our online behaviour came up with a number of solutions to circumvent the law including server side tracking - and there-in lies the biggest problem for Apple’s new claims.

What many people do not understand is that the servers we connect to for information on the web, are perfectly capable of communicating with other servers and sharing your fingerprint along with information relating to the web pages you requested from them. So even if a third party script may not be able to be loaded in the new version of Safari, there is nothing to stop a script on the web server itself from gathering the same information, packaging it up and sending it off to the very same third party without you being able to do anything to stop it or your browser ever being aware of it. They can even use client side (browser based javascripts) to send very detailed information back to their own server and then forward that to the third parties (information such as where you moved your mouse, how long you looked at a particular web page, the unique way your sound card or graphic card works and much more).

In fact, it is highly probable that Apple’s new approach to tracking will only accelerate a move to these server side technologies from those who have yet to use them.

Alexander Hanff

Interesting perspective on Apple’s new privacy initiative: instead of improving privacy and curbing excessive use of tracking, it just tips the balance in favor of other, more refined forms of tracking. In particular Facebook and Google could benefit, since their behavioral data comes predominately from logged in users on their platforms. Smaller players in advertising have little chance of competing with their scale advantage. And so the concentration of power in Silicon Valley continues.

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