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Apple doubles down on stopping ad tech companies from stalking you

The company said it will expand use of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) technology to stop the use of first-party cookies that stalk users around the web.

Apple doubles down on stopping ad tech companies from stalking you
[Photo: Thom/Unsplash]

Apple is talking tough on advertising companies that drop cookies to track your browser around the web to collect ad targeting data. The company says it sees cookie offenders as no better than bad actors that try to disable privacy and security features on its phones.

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The company’s WebKit team released a new policy statement today that expands the power of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) technology, which originally blocked the dropping of third-party cookies into Safari browsers used by iPhone and iMac owners.

For 25 years, interactive advertisers, including Facebook, Google, and other ad-tech firms, have dropped cookies into users’ browsers to track the websites they visit and interact with. The third-party cookies are usually dropped into a browser via an ad from the advertiser or ad network displayed somewhere in or around a publisher’s web content. A first-party cookie is one dropped by the publisher itself, often to keep track of content selected during the user’s previous visits. But, it turns out, the sneaky ad-tech players have figured out ways of using those first-party cookies to stalk users, too. It’s those techniques Apple says it will now block.

The vast ad-tech ecosystem is filled with niche players and middlemen that specialize in ever more accurate ways to track people’s interests on the web. And not all of them respect the browser’s cookie rules and user preferences to achieve their goal.

Apple is trying to take away the work-arounds commonly used by these players. It has already shut down methods like DeviceID, which establishes an identifier for the user’s computer in the browser. Now it’s shutting down the “link decoration” method used by social networks to make first-party cookies perform the user tracking functions of third-party cookies.

The penalties for any ad-tech player trying to circumvent blocks to these methods can be serious. Apple says it may reduce the tracking options of the specific advertiser that tries to work around the block. But it might also reduce the cookie options in the same way for all advertisers.

“If a party attempts to circumvent our tracking-prevention methods, we may add additional restrictions without prior notice,” Apple’s WebKit team says in the update. “These restrictions may apply universally; to algorithmically classified targets; or to specific parties engaging in circumvention.”

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Hat tip: ZDNet

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