NEW YORK: Facebook and other companies routinely track your online surfing habits to better target ads at you. Two web browsers now want to help you fight back in what’s becoming an escalating privacy arms race.New protections in Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers aim to prevent companies from turning “cookie” data files used to store sign-in details and preferences into broader trackers that take note of what you read, watch and research on other sites.
Lance Cottrell, creator of the privacy service Anonymizer, said Apple’s effort was particularly significant, as it takes aim at a technique developed by tracking companies to override users’ attempts to delete their cookies. Safari makes these protections automatic in updates to iPhones and iPads and later to Mac computers. Firefox has similar protections on Apple mobile devices and is rolling out them out to personal computers in the coming months.
To get the protections, you’ll have to break your habit of using Google’s Chrome browser, which by some estimates has more than half of the worldwide browser usage. Safari and Firefox have less than 20 percent combined.Even then, Safari and Firefox can’t entirely stop tracking. For starters, they won’t block tracking when you’re using Facebook or Google itself. Nor can they help much when you use phone or tablet apps, unless the app happens to embed Safari, as Twitter’s iPhone app does. But Will Strafach, a mobile security expert who is designing data security tools for phones, said imperfect protection is better than no protection. He notes that burglars can still break down a door, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother locking it. AP