Apple could punish websites for using cross-site tracking features on Safari users

For all of the criticism Apple faces for its device pricing and the locked-down nature of its software, it’s pretty tough to deny that the company takes user privacy seriously — at least, when compared to the majority of its competitors in the tech industry.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise to hear that Apple is planning to crack down on sites that utilize cross-site tracking. According to the company, moving forward, it will take a firm stance against these practices by implementing “technical protections” into WebKit — the browser engine that Safari runs on.

Though Apple didn’t elaborate on the specifics of these protections (perhaps to avoid giving websites a way to easily bypass them), the company does say they will apply to “all” covert or cross-site tracking. No exceptions will be made to this policy: if a website uses any form of tracking mentioned in this page, that functionality will be blocked, no matter how legitimately it might be used.

If a site attempts to circumvent Apple’s anti-tracking measures, the issue will be treated with the “same seriousness” as a security vulnerability.

“If a party attempts to circumvent our tracking prevention methods, we may add additional restrictions without prior notice,”

“If a party attempts to circumvent our tracking prevention methods, we may add additional restrictions without prior notice,” Apple says. “These restrictions may apply universally; to algorithmically classified targets; or to specific parties engaging in circumvention.” In other words, Apple may consider instituting extra punitive anti-tracking measures against bad actors.

Apple acknowledges that there will likely be some unintended casualties in the future. Some relatively-benign practices that could be blocked include bot detectors, fraud prevention tools, “Like” buttons or other social widgets, as well as audience measurement features.

“When faced with a tradeoff, we will typically prioritize user benefits over preserving current website practices,” Apple boldly claims. “We believe that that is the role of a web browser, also known as the user agent [emphasis Apple’s].”

Apple’s commitment to privacy is commendable, but it’ll be interesting to see how users and publishers react to Safari’s anti-tracking measures.

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