Apple is hugely successful blocking advertisers from tracking you

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Apple: Keep Out, privacy
Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention protects your privacy by keeping advertisers for following you around the web.
Photo: Apple

Apple skillfully protects user privacy by preventing advertisers from tracking everyone. Companies buying ads are less interested in anyone using Apple’s Safari browser because advertising agencies can’t use cookies to build profiles on those users.

Hurray for privacy and Intelligent Tracking Prevention

One of the highlights of Safari for macOS and iOS is Intelligent Tracking Prevention. This reduces cross-site tracking by limiting cookies and other website data.

Apple’s technology is far more sophisticated than simply blocking third-party cookies, though. It employs an on-device machine learning model to identify the domains that have the ability to track the user cross-site. And user tracking data can’t be appended to URLs, either.

According to research by The Information, Apple’s moves have been quite effective. “Since Apple introduced what it calls its Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature in September 2017, and with subsequent updates last year, advertisers have largely lost the ability to target people on Safari based on their browsing habits with cookies, the most commonly used technology for tracking,” the publication reports.

This is a positive development for everyone who doesn’t want to be tracked, and surely warms the heart of privacy advocates. Apple takes a strong stance on protecting user privacy.

However, it’s less good for websites that depend on ad revenue. In fact, some advertisers expect to pay 60% less to display an advertisement on a Mac or iPhone because they don’t know anything about the person viewing that ad, according to The Information.

… but there are limitations

Advertising agencies try to build profiles on users, and with cookies can reconstruct almost everywhere they go on the web. This leads to, for example, someone spending a few minutes looking at mattresses online, and then seeing mattress ads appearing on every website for weeks.

Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention prevents this, but it doesn’t mean Safari users see fewer ads. The advertisements just aren’t targeted. That means the person is less likely to be interested in what they see.

Also, it does nothing for sites like Facebook that have built their own profiles of each user’s likes and dislikes. These can still be used for targeted advertising.

Just keep in mind that Apple and advertising agencies are in a spy-versus-spy contest. Companies regularly come up with new methods to track users — and the iPhone-maker then stops them.