- At its annual developer conference on Monday, Apple rolled out new features that seem like pointed barbs at Facebook.
- Some of the new features will allow users to block Facebook and other ad network operators from tracking their movements on the web.
- Other features will allow users to limit the time they spend with particular apps, or control the notifications they get from them.
- In showing off these features, Apple repeatedly used Facebook-owned properties as examples.
- Apple CEO Tim Cook, whose company has tried to distinguish itself from rivals by playing up its privacy protections, has repeatedly criticised Facebook in recent months over its data collection practices.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has been sharply critical of Facebook of late for its widespread collection of data on consumers.
On Monday, Cook’s company followed up his words with some pointed actions that are designed to limit some of that data collection by Facebook and other operators of online ad networks.
“Data companies are clever and relentless,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said at the company’s WWDC developer conference in San Jose, explaining why Apple is offering some new features to allow users to control and protect their personal information.
Showing off one of those features, he said, “You can decide to keep your information private.”
One of the new features, which will be built into the next version of the company’s Safari web browser, will block Facebook and other companies from using the “like” buttons and comment fields that often appear on pages around the web.
“It turns out these can be used to track you whether you click on them or not,” Federighi said. “This year, we’re shutting that down.”
Safari will limit web sites’ ability to create digital fingerprints
Another feature in Safari will limit the kinds of information that web site operators and data brokers can gather about users’ computers. That information, which includes details about the computers consumers are using, the types of fonts they have on their devices, and the kinds of plug-ins they have installed in their browsers, can collectively be used as a kind of digital fingerprint to identify particular users, he said.
Thanks to the steps Apple is taking to block Safari from leaking that data, “Your Mac will look like everyone else’s Mac, and it will be dramatically more difficult for data companies to identify your device and track you,” Federighi said.
Apple is adding both of the new Safari features to the versions of the web browser that come with the Mac, the iPhone and the iPad. They’ll come with iOS 12 and macOS Mojave, both of which are due out later this year.
The features follow a feature Apple built into Safari last year that limits the ability of data brokers to track Safari users’ online movements across different sites as they surfed the web.
Apple users will have new tools to curtail their use of particular apps
The company is also taking steps to help users limit the amount of time they spend with particular apps and to fight back against the tactics Facebook and other companies use to repeatedly lure them back into their services. Among them: an upgraded version of its Do Not Disturb feature, more robust parental controls, a feature called Screen Time that will help users track the amount of time they’re spending with particular apps, and another one called App Limits that will allow users to curtail the amount of time they’re spending with certain apps.
In showing off Screen Time, the Facebook app was listed prominently at the top of the example list of apps that a hypothetical user spent the most time with. And in demonstrating App Limits, the app that got cut off was Instagram, which Facebook owns.
“Some apps demand more of our attention than we might even realize,” Federighi said. “They beg us to use our phone when we really should be occupying ourselves with something else.”
Over the last year, Cook has repeatedly criticized Facebook for the amount of data it collects on its users and what it does with that information. Following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the data on up to 87 million of the social network’s users was improperly obtained by a Trump-linked consulting firm, he was asked what he would do if he were in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s place. Cook’s response: “I wouldn’t be in that situation.”
Apple has tried to distinguish itself from the other big tech giants, particularly Facebook and Google, by promoting its privacy and security practices. Unlike those and other tech giants, Apple isn’t dependent on advertising, instead getting the nearly all of its revenue from sales of devices and related services.
The changes also come amid growing criticism of tech companies, including Apple, for designing devices and services that encourage what many have called a kind of addiction among their users. Apple had promised earlier this year to take steps to give users more control over their devices and apps.