Apple says its tests show that some popular websites are embedded with more than 70 such trackers. Many of these are from Facebook and Google, which are expected to command a combined 57 percent of the $107 billion U.S. digital advertising market this year, according to the research group eMarketer.
Though general awareness of data collection has grown in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal , how trackers work behind the scenes remains a mystery to many people.
Ghostery and other products have long offered tracking protection. The browsers are now trying to incorporate that directly so you don’t have to go looking for browser add-ons.
Safari will try to automatically distinguish cookies that are useful from ones that are there just to track you. Apple notes that cookies can appear in unexpected places, such as sites that embed “like” and “share” buttons. Now, those cookies will be blocked until you click on one of those buttons, in which case you’ll be prompted for permission to allow the tracking. If you don’t, your “like” won’t register.
Safari is also attacking a technique developed to circumvent cookie deletions. Through “fingerprinting,” a company can identify you through your computer’s characteristics, such as browser type and fonts installed. Your new cookie can then be tied to your old profile. Safari will now limit the technical details it sends.
Firefox has an anti-tracking feature that also tries to distinguish tracking cookies from useful ones. It’s on by default only on Apple’s mobile devices. Mozilla is testing a broader rollout for personal computers, though its plans for Android are not yet known. For now, you need to turn it on or use a private-browsing mode, which gets more aggressive at killing cookies, including useful ones.
For PCs, Firefox also has an optional add-on, called Facebook Container, to segregate your Facebook activity from everything else. Think of it as a wall that prevents Facebook from accessing its data cookie as you surf elsewhere. A version is available for other trackers, too, but requires configuration on your part.
None of the Firefox tools, though, address fingerprinting.
Unsurprisingly, advertisers aren’t happy.
In a statement, Interactive Advertising Bureau executive Dennis Buchheim said that even as browsers makers feel pressured to deliver privacy-centric features, they should consider the importance of advertising in enabling free services.
The new Safari and Firefox tools don’t block ads. But without cookies, websites might get paid a lot less for them, said Jed Williams, chief innovation officer at the Local Media Association, an industry group for news publishers.
Apple and Mozilla are able to push the boundaries on privacy because neither depends on advertising. Google makes most of its money from selling ads.
Facebook and Google declined comment on the Safari and Firefox tools. But Google said its Chrome browser offers tools to control and delete cookies and set preferences for certain websites. Google says users can also decline personalization and get generic ads instead, though tracking continues in the background while using the company’s services.