Apple set to toughen up ad tracking rules

Apple: releasing new iPhones and software next month
Apple: releasing new iPhones and software next month

Tech giant is burnishing its privacy credentials by cracking down on cookie workarounds.

Apple looks set to put even tougher restrictions on ad tracking as it prepares to release a new version of iOS, its iPhone operating system, next month.

The company’s WebKit team has released a new policy statement that says its Intelligent Tracking Prevention technology will be expanded. ITP originally blocked third-party cookies being dropped into Safari, Apple’s web browser, on iPhones.

However, some ad tech players have developed workarounds that allow first-party cookies, the files used by website publishers to keep track of user content preferences, to be used for ad tracking – such as "link decoration".

Apple now says it may either reduce an advertiser’s ad tracking options or reduce cookie options for all advertisers if they continue to track users covertly. Even if the data is "not believed to be personally identifiable", Apple said, it wants to prohibit the collection of data about individuals across websites.

Facebook, Google and other ad tech companies drop third-party cookies into users’ web browsers to track the sites they visit. Apple, which is building a more privacy-centric tech brand, provoked outrage in 2017 after 24-hour time limits were imposed on third-party cookies in Safari. 

In a blogpost, WebKit said: "When faced with a tradeoff, we will typically prioritise user benefits over preserving current website practices. We believe that is the role of a web browser, also known as the user agent…. We want to see a healthy web ecosystem, with privacy by design."

Apple is expected to launch iOS 13, the latest version of its iPhone operating software, next month alongside the release of new iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch models. The new 'iPhone 11' is rumoured to be released on 20 September.

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