By Kevin Kelleher
June 4, 2018

Apple’s rivalry with Facebook is heating up. Apple executives unveiled features at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday that they said would increase user privacy and “digital wellness,” but also appear to be a shot Facebook’s data-dependent business.

One Apple’s upcoming iOS 12 features is Screen Time, which creates weekly reports that show which mobile apps dominate your attention in addition to letting you limit the amount of time spent on them. In introducing Screen Time at WWDC, Apple used Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, as an example of an app that users could cut back on. Another feature, Family Sharing, lets parents cut children off from using apps after a set amount of time daily.

Apple not only aims to help customers use social media apps less, it’s limiting the ability of advertisers to track the personal data of people who use Safari on Macs. The next Safari update will include privacy protections that block Facebook “likes” and prevent such widgets from tracking users when they visit third-party sites. As Apple explained in a release describing the changes:

As with all Apple software updates, enhanced privacy and security remain a top priority in macOS Mojave. In Safari, enhanced Intelligent Tracking Prevention helps block social media “Like” or “Share” buttons and comment widgets from tracking users without permission. Safari now also presents simplified system information when users browse the web, preventing them from being tracked based on their system configuration.

While the release doesn’t mention Facebook by name, the WWDC presentation showed the technology blocking Facebook pages.

Safari will also prevent fingerprinting, or the ability to identify individual users through browser configurations like plugins, by making all Safari users appear to have the original, and therefore identical, default settings. Such moves would not only hurt Facebook’s ability to track users, but also Google and any company, including publishers, that rely heavily on the kinds ad technology that many users consider to be intrusive.

Silicon Valley’s giant tech companies have been encroaching on each other’s turf for years, creating rivalries such as the one between iOS and Google’s Android operating system. Apple’s moves are unusual in that it isn’t promoting a rival product, but presenting Apple devices as privacy friendly.

As Google and Facebook have grown more dependent on ad targeting for revenue, Apple has been pitching itself in recent years as a more privacy friendly company. Facebook in particular has weathered a series of data-privacy controversies in the past year, culminating in its CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before several regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Europe. Facebook is weathefing another scandal following New York Times article this weekend saying that the company had been sharing personal data with mobile device manufacturers, including Apple.

Apple is also introducing its News app to the macOS platform, while Facebook has decided to show fewer news stories in its news feed. The company reportedly wants to introduce a monthly subscription service for the News app that would help publishers, many of which are struggling financially, collect new revenue.

 

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