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Apple is going to war with Facebook's web trackers

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Ever since Facebook’s (FB) massive Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook has made no bones about his distaste for the social media giant’s mishandling of its users’ data.

Now, Cook and company are taking their own steps to jam up social media sites’ web-tracking tools by blocking them in both the upcoming macOS Mojave and iOS 12 versions of Apple’s Safari browser. In other words, the war of words between Facebook and Apple seems to have just gone hot.

Blocking social tracking

“In Safari, enhanced Intelligent Tracking Prevention helps block social media ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ buttons and comment widgets from tracking users without permission,” Apple said in a statement.

The move won’t completely stop you from being able to use Like and Share buttons or make comments on sites using Facebook plugins on websites, but it will require you to take the extra step of confirming that you want to have Facebook share your data via a pop-up that warns of as much.

If you don’t confirm you want to use the Like or Share buttons or leave a comment, they won’t be able to track your data at all. This is especially important for people who don’t have Facebook, but can still be tracked through these social features.

Social tracking will be curtailed in macOS Mojave and iOS 12.

That’s a big move on Apple’s part, and follows Cook’s comments that consumers’ data and privacy is a civil right and human right. When he was asked how he would handle Facebook’s data scandal during an interview with MSNBC, Cook he “wouldn’t be in this situation.”

This isn’t the first time that Apple has hit out at social media sites and other platforms for trafficking in users’ data. Cook previously expressed how Apple could easily monetize user data to make an enormous sum of cash, but chooses not to on moral grounds.

Of course, Apple has had issues of its own when it comes to how its iPhones are built.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t taken the criticism lying down, though. In an interview with Vox, he called Cook’s comments “extremely glib” and said that if you are going to build a service that connects people around the world, some of whom can’t afford to pay, an advertising-based model is the only way to go.

Stopping fingerprinting

Apple isn’t just hitting back at social media sites — the company is also making it harder for advertiser networks to track users based on the kinds of devices they use. Called fingerprinting, this technique allows advertisers to track web users based on the machine they use, the kinds of fonts they use and legacy plug-ins they use.

Apple says that these kinds of indicators can make it easy for advertisers to accurately track users across multiple sites and get a better picture of who you are. With the macOS Mojave version of Safari, though, Apple is making it harder for advertisers to see who you are and what you like.

It’s a move that will surely make privacy advocates happy, but will raise the ire of your advertisers and advertiser-supported businesses.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowleyFollow Yahoo Finance on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn