Apple puts the brakes on Facebook’s data collection
San Francisco — Apple executives rarely call out Facebook, but they made more moves on Monday to limit the social network’s data collection.
In 2018 iPhone, iPad, and Mac software updates, Apple’s default Safari web browser will show a pop-up window asking users for permission before loading share buttons from social networks including Facebook. These buttons make it easy to share web content, but they also let social networks collect user data — something Apple has been cracking down on in recent years.
This would also apply to tools such as like buttons and the comment sections of social networks, Apple executive Craig Federighi demonstrated during a presentation at the company’s annual developer conference.
Apple also showcased a new system that makes it more difficult to gather information about users as they browse across the web. When people visit sites, the characteristics of their device can be used by advertisers to create a "fingerprint" to track them. Safari would share a "simplified" profile to thwart this, Apple said.
The changes are not Apple’s most expansive in the privacy space, simply an evolution. Last year, the company launched an Intelligent Tracking system that makes it more difficult for advertisers to follow users around the web. Still, Monday’s announcements are another step in a brewing spat with Facebook over privacy and data collection.
While Facebook was not mentioned during Monday’s keynote, Apple has criticised the social network operator recently. Lax policies around sharing data with third parties led to the leak of Facebook user information to consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Apple CEO Tim Cook said in March that he "wouldn’t be in this situation" if he were in Mark Zuckerberg’s shoes. The Facebook CEO called the criticism "extremely glib".
Earlier this year, Apple added a new privacy panel to its operating systems, explaining in plain language why, how and what data is collected from Apple devices and by specific applications. While Facebook generates revenue from ads targeted with detailed information about users, Apple makes most of its money selling hardware products.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Facebook struck deals with device manufacturers, including Apple, that gave them access to information on users and their friends without their explicit consent. Facebook said the pacts were designed to help device makers create their own versions of Facebook apps, and the data mostly remained on phones that accessed it.
Apple publicly discussed this Facebook integration in 2012 with its iOS 6 operating system update for iPhones and iPads. The company added a similar Twitter integration a year earlier, in iOS 5, and support for LinkedIn and Vimeo with iOS 7 in 2013.
The integration let users speed up logins to their social-media accounts via a menu in the iOS settings app. IPhone users also had the option to synchronise their contacts with Facebook and Twitter. Apple removed those features for all four companies with iOS 11 in 2017.
"The things mentioned in the Times article about relationship status, all these kinds of things, are so foreign to us, and not data that we have ever received at all or requested — zero," Cook told NPR in an interview. "We integrated the ability to share in the operating system, make it simple to share a photo and that sort of thing. So it’s a convenience for the user. We weren’t in the data business."