APPLE has been praised by privacy campaigners after introducing a new feature in its Safari web browser that clamps down on cookies which track online browsing habits.
The new version of Safari, which is due to be released for Apple’s phones and tablets later on Tuesday, contains a default feature known as intelligent tracking prevention which will block certain websites from following users around the internet.
This practice is often used to push adverts to users based on other items they have searched for online and the move has angered advertisers, but Apple says users have a right to privacy.
Renate Samson, chief executive of privacy group Big Brother Watch, said the move was a step forward for consumer privacy on the web.
“Apple’s disruption of ad tracking cookies is a very welcome step in improving our online privacy,” she said.
“Users of Safari will now be able to automatically block the insidious monitoring undertaken by the prying eyes of invisible advertising companies who share and sell the details of all our internet activity in order to influence our decision-making and lifestyle choices.”
But online advertisers have hit out at the change, with six US advertising bodies penning an open letter to the tech giant stating they were deeply concerned about the nature of the feature.
They urged the firm to rethink a plan they claim would “risk disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today’s digital content and services”.
Cookies are small text files placed on a computer that help websites tag who is logged in, but have become crucial to advertisers as a way of building a picture of the browsing habits of users, enabling them to more accurately target them with adverts.
Blocking of cookies in some capacity is already possible in previous versions of Safari and in other browsers, but Apple is set to use a new algorithm to better target those used for tracking.
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The new intelligent tracking prevention will use machine learning to identify cookies that were desirable or helpful to users, the firm says, and block those used for advert-targeting.
In response to the advertisers’ letter, Apple said: “Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history.
“This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the internet.”
The feature will also arrive on the desktop version of Safari when Apple launches its next update to its macOS computer software, called High Sierra, on September 25.