Apple is juicing up Safari’s user security and digital advertisers are worried

September 18, 2018
Apple is well-known for being protective of its users. In the upcoming version of its headline browser, Safari 12, the giant tech company is pushing this protection even further.

What’s happening is Safari is getting some new features that have digital advertisers worried they won’t be able to effectively target – and retarget – social and website visitors anymore.  The two main developments which we at Mash Media will be watching very closely are:

  1. Intelligent Tracking Prevention
  2. Anti-fingerprinting.

Because the ability to reach certain people with tailored messages is fundamental for digital advertising effectiveness, both of these changes are concerning. They are built specifically so that the online and social behaviours of users are obscured.

As Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi says under Safari 12: “[it will be] dramatically more difficult for data companies to identify and track you”.

And with Safari 12 nearly upon us, let’s look at what it’ll bring in more detail.

Intelligent tracking prevention

Intelligent tracking prevention is not anything new for Apple, but the company is doubling down on features it introduced in Safari 11. Unless the beta version of Safari 12 has last-minute changes, users of the official version won’t be seeing like and follow buttons anymore when they browse the web.

Some commentators say this is a direct shot at Facebook and an attempt to curb the social media giant’s ability to track users across domains when they are not actually using the platform.

While many users think these buttons are there primarily to make their own browsing experience better, the fact is their main function is to gather private user data for targeted advertising. Users didn’t even have to click them, the browser just had to load them for the data to be collected.

That said, users should still be able to access like and follow functions on websites if they wish, but it will be an opt-in. Yes, this sort of feature has already been around for a while in lesser ways and on other browsers; however, Safari 12 seems like it’ll set a new standard.

Anti-fingerprinting

User fingerprinting is a way service providers can build a profile of a device user through analysing search and usage behaviour correlated with the settings of the device they use to access the internet.

The theory is that every device has a distinct setup and every user has unique online behaviour patterns. Gather enough of this data and subject it to sophisticated analytics and you can build a so-called “fingerprint” of the unique person using a unique device.

Apple’s approach to foiling this practice is to make device configuration much simpler – i.e. fewer customisation options – and preventing old plugins running.

The effects for Google AdWords and Facebook Ads

It is important to note that a user on Safari 12 will still receive advertising, even if they choose the browser’s new opt-outs. The effect of opting out is that this advertising will probably be much less relevant or interesting to them.

Say, for example, they are researching laser eye surgery:

  • If they opt in, they are likely to receive advertising containing discounts or special offers.
  • If they opt out, they will have to search the web for these discounts or special offers.

Is Apple protecting or confining users?

If it seems like Apple is anti-advertising, that’s not the case. It didn’t become the world’s first US$1 trillion company through any misunderstanding of the needs of business. These changes instead make it harder for Apple’s users to be targeted with materials catered towards their interests.

See, Apple trades heavily on a curious type of integrity that engenders fierce brand loyalty. This results in big dollars in retail and subscription sales. Because Apple practices what it preaches it has the trust of its users even if this narrows their choices.

Safari 12’s pro-privacy and anti-tracking features might not make too much overall difference in an online world dominated by Chrome, but they do affirm Apple’s user-first credo. The problem is they’ll also make it much harder for reputable digital advertisers to target the quarter of all online users who use Safari.

Crucially, among that 25 percent are strong representations of certain user groups – especially wealthier people who work in professional services – who are a target audience, based on their interests. Under Safari 12, these people may miss a lot of offers they legitimately want.

What happens once Safari 12 is released?

Will people who opt-out, and thus miss out on advertising that is highly relevant to them, end up opting back in? After all, they’ll still receive advertising either way, only that under Safari 12’s opt-out that advertising will be for products and services that they have no interest in.

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