Firefox and Safari Pave Way to More Secure Browsing By Blocking Trackers
September 14, 2018
It’s become a point of contention among tech companies and web users alike that some brands, such as Facebook, have been tracking user data as part of their marketing endeavor. Ever log into Facebook and see a bunch of ads tailored specifically to things you’ve been looking for lately? Ever wonder, “wow, I was just searching for magnetic eyelashes yesterday, how did Facebook know I wanted these?” Well, this partially answers those questions.
Facebook and similar companies log the cookies for sites you visit from their page, and while their page is open. It allows them to see what music you like, where you shop, and even what types of items you’re putting into your cart. Facebook then uses this information to customize the ads and videos you see populate from advertisers on your newsfeed. While the issue has been ongoing and is legal as far as their privacy agreement goes, many social media users have become a little weirded out due to some of the issues which arose following the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year.
Now, it looks like some browsers are putting an end to this data collection and fighting back for the rights of their users and their own interests. Two such online platforms are the Apple Safari browser and Mozilla’s Firefox browser. The two companies have begun prohibiting the cookie files collected from users to be stored for online preferences and tracking purposes. For Apple, this project begins with helping users to better delete the cookies stored from websites around the globe.
Tricky Website Tactics
Some websites have developed software which keeps users from deleting the cookies they store properly; this allows those sites to continue accessing information. Apple’s Safari browser is now protecting its users by blocking these cookie reversals and attempts at negating user cookie deletions. It launched last week to the mobile iPhones, tablets iPads, and this coming week it will hit other Mac products.
The Firefox browser is taking similar measures, using an anti-tracking method to dissuade unnecessary cookies from taking hold when visiting other sites. Mozilla holds more ground on a PC than a mobile device, even going so far as to make a “Facebook Container” which helps keep Facebook information away from other user information, not allowing the social media platform to grab onto anything but what you do on the site itself.
None of these helpful privacy methods will pan out if users continue their use of alternative websites. Google Chrome has been condemned by Apple and Mozilla as one of the most problematic browsers for collection and dispersion of cookies. Currently, Mozilla and Safari only hold approximately 20% of the world’s browser preferences put together, taking a backseat to Chrome and Explorer. Their efforts won’t help as many as they hope if numbers don’t increase, but those who do choose these browsers can rest knowing at least some of this information stays protected.
Some, But Not All
Firefox and Safari might have started paving the way to more secure browsing, but it can’t block trackers from Facebook or Google specifically. This means that when you’re logged into social media or searching a query through giant search engine, Google, the tracing cookies can still attach to your account, even through an iPhone.
Twitter, on the other hand, has developed an application with Apple, which launches Twitter directly through the Safari browser, making it more difficult for social media and online trackers to attach to your account. Users who find other such apps may still be safe from third party cookies when browsing on an iPad or iPhone.
Are All Cookies Bad?
Not at all. Most cookies are used to keep track of login information so that it’s easier for you to get in and out of your account without needing to reenter a password. This works for email accounts, ecommerce sites like Amazon, and of course, social media sites like Pinterest. These cookies also keep track of personal information which is then used to develop your online profile. For example, on Netflix, your history allows the company to craft a variety of streaming video titles just for you based on what you’ve already watched. Amazon and eBay too, offer recommended buys based on what you’ve got in your cart or previously purchased.
The companies with the biggest stakes in the ad tracking game are Facebook and Google, who have partnered with hundreds of companies and invite hundreds of millions of dollars each year in revenues for ads alone. It’s estimated that $107 billion is spent each year in the United States on digital marketing, and more than 50% of this is delegated to Google and Facebook.
The Future of Tracking
Due to last year’s Facebook scandal, the world is suddenly more aware than ever before on the dangers of cookies, tracing, and information sharing online. What will the future hold for cookies and advertisers? Not surprisingly, advertising companies are dismayed at the recent changes in some browsers to circumvent personal information sharing, but this won’t stop them from accessing some of it one way or another.
Online users can protect themselves by reading privacy agreements before clicking to agree to such policies. Avoid putting information which is too personal into any online messaging chat, or form, even sharing in e-mail. Crating a neutral online presence can help but doesn’t protect every instance. Browsing responsibly is the best way to stay safe online.