Apple takes aim at Facebook’s omnipresent advertising machine 蘋果要瓦解臉書鋪天蓋地的廣告機制

Tue, Jun 12, 2018 - Page 14

Hot on the heels of two major data privacy scandals involving the US presidential election and the sharing of user data with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, Facebook Inc now has another problem: Apple Inc is preparing to take a big bite out of its business model.

At last week’s annual software developers conference, Apple unveiled enhanced privacy features for the latest version of its Web browser app, Safari, which will be turned on by default on iPhones, iPads and Mac computers, and are designed to put an end to the murky business of data tracking.

Data tracking is used extensively by companies such as Facebook and Google — but also mysterious third-party data brokers — to follow users around the Web. Even if you do not use Facebook’s or Google’s services, they will likely still have a file on you. Apple’s enhanced privacy technology attempts to combat this in two ways.

First, in addition to removing cookies (tiny programs added to your browser), Safari will block trackers used by social networking sites. In the case of Facebook, these can take the form of “social plug-ins” such as “Like” and “Share” buttons — estimated to be on more than 13 million Web sites, comment fields, cross-site logins and even pixels invisible to the naked eye, called Facebook Pixel, which are embedded in more than 10,000 Web sites according to research by Belgian privacy watchdog, the Privacy Commission. Even if you are not logged into Facebook and you haven’t clicked on any plug-ins, Facebook can still use these elements to track your browsing activity. Apple aims to shut down this vast network of digital “listening posts.”

Second, through an update to its Safari browser, Apple will tackle the lesser known technique of “canvas fingerprinting,” which allows a user to be identified through their device and Web browser’s settings, even if they have removed cookies and are taking steps to hide their IP address such as by using a VPN service. In future, all Apple devices should look nearly identical to Web sites, limiting the ability of companies to apply fingerprints.

Apple’s positioning as a champion of privacy appears to be an astute commercial move: By leveraging its large user base it can shut down major revenue streams of its rivals, and other companies — such as Microsoft — may follow suit as enhanced privacy protection enters the mainstream. However, the decision may also be guided by Apple’s philosophy.

The company has traditionally taken a more robust stance on the privacy of its customers’ data since, unlike Google or Facebook, its business model relies on selling hardware and services, not advertising. Apple CEO Tim Cook has described data tracking as “totally out of control.”

Some EU and US politicians are now calling for Facebook to be broken up. One thing’s for sure, until Facebook can win back public trust, Apple will continue to dine out on its woes.

(Edward Jones, Taipei Times)












Reading Comprehension

A brief history of Apple

The Apple Computer Company — later renamed Apple Inc — was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne in the garage of Job’s family home in Los Altos, California. Apple’s first product was the Apple I computer, which lacked a keyboard, monitor and even a casing. The Apple II was released in 1977 and boasted features such as color graphics, floppy disk drive and a spreadsheet program.

Apple’s big breakthrough came in 1984 with the launch of the Apple Macintosh personal computer. The Macintosh was the first mass-market personal computer to feature a graphical user interface and a mouse.

Jobs was forced out of the company in 1985 but returned to Apple in 1997 to rescue the company which had by then fallen into decline. Jobs restructured the company and, together with Apple’s chief designer Jonathan Ive, developed highly successful products such as the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, bringing the company back to profitability. Today Apple is on track to become the world’s first trillion US dollar company.


1. Do you feel comfortable with companies such as Google and Facebook building a file of your online activity, then selling this information to a third party?

2. Is it ethical for Facebook and others to covertly track you online without asking for your permission first?

3. Do you agree with Apple’s strategy of blocking online trackers — and therefore targeted advertising? Could there be any downsides?

(Edward Jones, Taipei Times)