Apple's kangaroo cookie robot
11 June 2017
I'm looking forward to trying "Intelligent Tracking Prevention" in Apple Safari. But first, let's watch an old TV commercial for MSN.
Today, a spam filter seems like a must-have feature for any email service. But MSN started talking about its spam filtering back when Sanford Wallace, the "Spam King," was saying stuff like this.
I have to admit that some people hate me, but I have to tell you something about hate. If sending an electronic advertisement through email warrants hate, then my answer to those people is "Get a life. Don't hate somebody for sending an advertisement through email." There are people out there that also like us.
According to spammers, spam filtering was just Internet nerds complaining about something that regular users actually like. But the spam debate ended when big online services, starting with MSN, started talking about how they build for their real users instead of for Wallace's hypothetical spam-loving users.
If you missed the email spam debate, don't worry. Wallace's talking points about spam filters constantly get recycled by surveillance marketers talking about tracking protection. But now it's not email spam that users supposedly crave. Today, the Interactive Advertising Bureau tells us that users want ads that "follow them around" from site to site.
Enough background. Just as the email spam debate ended with MSN's campaign, the third-party web tracking debate ended on June 5, 2017.
With Intelligent Tracking Prevention, WebKit strikes a balance between user privacy and websites’ need for on-device storage. That said, we are aware that this feature may create challenges for legitimate website storage, i.e. storage not intended for cross-site tracking.
If you need it in bullet points, here it is.
Nifty machine learning technology is coming in on the user's side.
"Legitimate" uses do not include cross-site tracking.
Safari's protection is automatic and client-side, so no blocklist politics.
Surveillance marketers come up with all kinds of hypothetical reasons why users might prefer targeted ads. But in the real world, Apple invests time and effort to understand user experience. When Apple communicates about a feature, it's because that feature is likely to keep a user satisfied enough to buy more Apple devices. We can't read their confidential user research, but we can see what the company learned from it based on how they communicate about products.
(Imagine for a minute that Apple's user research had found that real live users are more like the Interactive Advertising Bureau's idea of a user. We might see announcements more like "Safari automatically shares your health and financial information with brands you love!" Anybody got one of those to share?)
Saving an out-of-touch ad industry
Advertising supports journalism and cultural works that would not otherwise exist. It's too important not to save. Bob Hoffman asks,
[H]ow can we encourage an acceptable version of online advertising that will allow us to enjoy the things we like about the web without the insufferable annoyance of the current online ad model?
The browser has to be part of the answer. If the browser does its job, as Safari is doing, it can play a vital role in re-connecting users with legit advertising—just as users have come to trust legit email newsletters now that they have effective spam filters.
Safari's Intelligent Tracking Prevention is not the final answer any more than Paul Graham's "A plan for spam" was the final spam filter. Adtech will evade protection tools just as spammers did, and protection will have to keep getting better. But at least now we can finally say debate over, game on.