APPLE IS CHANGING the way ads are tracked in Safari to make it that bit more anonymous. The move tries to walk a fine line between keeping data useful for advertisers while maintaining privacy.
This is how it works currently. You visit a website, let's call it The Onquirer for sake of argument. You see an advert for a product, let's call it an Opple oPhone, to keep this indecipherable code consistent. You clock the advert, but don't click it.
A few days later, you decide that you would very much like this oPhone in your pocket, so go to the Opple website and buy one. Opple's website does a quick scan of your cookies to see if its oPhone adverts have appeared anywhere, and happy days: it sees The Onquirer and marks it as an advert worth having. Everybody's happy.
The problem is that while this data is intended to be anonymous, an unscrupulous advertiser could potentially figure out your identity by examining the sites you've visited and what you've bought from its clients' websites.
Apple's answer is a bit of a mouthful: Privacy Preserving Ad Click Attribution. In short, it measures ad success in the browser rather than leaving it to advertisers. And it had a randomised delay of 24-48 hours so advertisers can't figure out who bought via timestamps, too.
"The browser vendor should not learn about the user's ad clicks or conversions," wrote Apple's John Wilander. "For this reason, we designed the feature to do all of its work on-device. The browser vendor does not see any of the ad click attribution data."
This is now part of Apple's test browser for developers: Safari Technology Preview 82. The company is hoping that others will embrace it too - which is pretty important, given Safari is only used by about five per cent of the world. Privacy-focused Mozilla has given it a warm welcome, but that only adds an additional ten per cent.
The real prize is Google Chrome, used by nearly two-thirds of the world. But unlike Apple, Google is very much a part of the online advertising business, meaning it might be a tougher sell… µ
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