Ad industry to Apple: ‘Deeply concerned’ about Safari’s new ad-tracking restrictions

The upcoming iOS 11 is winning plaudits in anticipation of its public reveal on Sept 19, but one group is not happy with Apple’s updates to its Safari browser. 

Six of the leading players in the advertising industry penned an open letter to Apple, expressing their concerns about Safari‘s new “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” feature last week. 

The new feature restricts tracking by further limiting cookies and other website data from being shared across multiple websites. For Safari users, this offers a cleaner Internet experience with no hassling advertisements. 

But for advertisers, the feature will be a huge blow to a struggling industry whose revenues are dominated by Facebook and Google. 

“Apple’s unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love,” reads the letter. “Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful.” 

The “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” feature uses machine learning to sort through the trackers and block them. But the machine learning can adjust its behaviour to allow users to retain long-term cookies and website data on websites they frequently use, according to Apple WebKit engineer John Wilander, who built the feature. 

However, the advertising industry thinks machine learning is an untrustworthy player to monitor cookies and website data. 

“Put simply, machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice; they represent browser-manufacturer choice,” reads the letter. 

The letter asks for Apple to reconsider the feature, but it does not look like the Cupertino tech giant is having second thoughts. 

“The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit,” said Apple in a statement to Apple-focused blog The Loop. “Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally.” 

The “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” feature will be available on Safari browsers on both iOS 11 for iPhones and iPad, and the upcoming High Sierra Mac operating system. The High Sierra OS will be released a week after iOS 11 on Sept 25. — San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service