Web browsers, particularly Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, have lately taken stronger actions against unscrupulous, not to mention potentially illegal, tracking by websites and third parties. Curiously silent is one browser maker who has painted itself as the champion of privacy in the modern digital and tech world. Apple, however, was simply waiting for the right moment to announce its own new policy against the misuse of tracking and cookies. But while it might be the harshest and strictest policy among web browsers, it could also be one of those that breaks the Internet the most for users.
The policy is actually being implemented within WebKit itself, the open source web browser engine used by Safari on both macOS and iOS, the App Store, Mail, and quite a few third-party apps even on Linux. It isn’t yet clear if the new policy, which Apple candidly credits Mozilla for inspiration, will apply to the latter set of apps outside Apple’s direct control.
Generally, the tracking prevention policy is like Google’s and Mozilla’s, barring the use of cross-site tracking and all covert tracking. It uses some pretty strong words, warning that circumventing the new policy will be treated as a security exploit. It also won’t grant any exception to specific parties even if they have valid uses for techniques that WebKit might not be able to detect.
Unfortunately, that policy will have, as Apple also admits, unintended impact even on some valid uses cases. Those include funding websites, “like” buttons and other social networking widgets, single sign-on for multiple sites controlled by the same organization, and, ironically, even bot and fraud detection.
The developers do concede that user benefits weigh more heavily and will investigate ways to deliver much-used features without compromising their privacy. Apple has been known to develop its own technologies in that regard and, like Sign in with Apple, it could push those as alternatives.