Apple clamps down further on third-party tracking with latest iOS updates

Craig Federighi, Apple senior VP of software engineering, speaking at WWDC 2018 / Apple

Apple used its annual developer conference WWDC to unveil a host of updates, including limitations on how companies can track users of its Safari web browser, a measure that poses obstacles for third parties such as Facebook and Google as well as other analytics providers.

The phrase ‘online privacy’ is one of the burning issues of the moment, with the European Union's General Data Protection (GDPR) regulations coming into force, and Apple’s latest software update builds upon this trend.

Apple's iOS 12 includes updates to its Intelligence Tracking Prevention (ITP) tools with the latest offering blocking tracking features such as ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ buttons by default. This means that users of the Safari web browser have to proactively opt-in to such tools in order for third parties to be able to track their online activities as well as other sensitive information stored on iOS devices, such as contacts information etc.

The newly unveiled updates also included limitations on “fingerprinting”, ie how third-party tracking companies can monitor which devices are visiting their website via the browser, a move that will make it even more difficult for advertisers to measure the reach of their online ads.

“Safari now also presents simplified system information when users browse the web, preventing them from being tracked based on their system configuration,” reads a statement announcing the updates.

“Safari now also automatically creates, autofills and stores strong passwords when users create new online accounts and flags reused passwords so users can change them.”

The latest privacy updates, among a host of others, were unveiled on the WWDC stage by Craig Federighi, Apple senior VP of software engineering, who said: "There can be a lot of sensitive data on your devices, and we think you should be in control of who sees it.”

Apple’s ITP was first unveiled at its corresponding event 12 months ago, with the measure causing some friction in the wider adtech ecosystem. Ad retargeting firm Criteo later told investors that the rollout of the feature could negatively impact revenues by up to 8-10% in coming financial periods.

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