Apple takes direct swipe at Facebook over privacy at WWDC

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Apple's WWDC focused on software updates like new privacy features in Safari. Credit: Apple

Apple took its privacy complaints against Facebook all the way to its biggest event of the year—the Worldwide Developer Conference, also known as WWDC.

During Monday's annual parade of new products and software changes, Apple said it will start asking Safari users to opt-in to the people tracking Facebook does well beyond its own borders through the like buttons and Facebook-enabled comment sections that appear on a galaxy of websites.

In other words: "We're shutting that down," said Craig Federighi, Apple's head of software engineering.

Instead of just allowing the social network to access data on internet users, a pop-up will appear in Safari asking, "Do you want to allow Facebook.com to use cookies and available data while browsing?"

The changes in Safari will apply when Apple's next-generation operating systems roll out widely later this year. (No exact date of the launch was revealed.)

Apple and its CEO Tim Cook have been among the most outspoken critics of internet companies like Facebook and Google, whose business models rely on personal data to target ads. Sites susceptible to Google tracking will also show similar pop-up messages.

Facebook has faced tough public questioning over its data practices since the U.S. and U.K. governments began investigating Cambridge Analytica's alleged abuse of personal information from the social network. Facebook has had to rethink its relationship to such third-party data providers and developers.

Just this week, The New York Times reported on data-sharing arrangements between Facebook and dozens of device manufacturers, including Apple. Facebook acknowledged that over the years device makers like Apple, Samsung and Blackberry were able to build versions of the social network for their mobile devices.

Facebook executives have pushed back against critics like Apple. CEO Mark Zuckerberg called it "extremely glib" for Cook to claim Facebook didn't care about consumers because they don't pay for the service, for instance.

Facebook has been taking steps to audit any data abuse it uncovers from the past. It has changed its data-sharing policies with developers, and says it no longer gives apps access to as much information without proper vetting.

Apple has been making changes to its products to limit the amount of data consumers share with advertisers. Last year, Apple put restrictions on cookies and limited ad retargeting, which is when an advertiser shows the same consumers the same ad on different web sites.

Apple wasn't just talking privacy features at WWDC, though the event lacked some of its usual spark because there was no major hardware announcement—no phones, no watches, just software. Introduced was the next version of its mobile phone software iOS 12 and desktop MacOS Mojave.

Apple also upgraded its TV app, making it easier for people to log into all channels using one cable log-in.

Also, the company signaled it was taking criticisms of mobile phone addiction seriously, and released new tools for people to track how long they are on their phones and manage their time better.

On a lighter side, Apple also introduced a new feature in Animojis, the animated emojis it delivered last year: Called Memojis, it lets people create animated emojis of themselves.

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