Apple Safari feature blocks Facebook user tracking and could disrupt the social network’s mobile ad targeting

A new function in Apple’s Safari browser can disable Facebook’s tracking of sites which embed its engagement buttons (e.g. the “like” button). Facebook has been tracking people’s browsing behaviours to help target its adverts for quite some time now. When a person visits a mobile or desktop site that has a Facebook engagement button installed, the social media network can track that person’s data, including their user ID, the website they are visiting as well as browser information.

The Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention integration disrupts this connection. As part of the latest Safari upgrade, the feature has been auto-enabled, but users can choose to disable it.

Effectively, Intelligent Tracking Prevention deactivates Facebook’s plugins.

It is unclear if the installation will have a big effect on user experience since targeted ads tend to be better than un-targeted ones.

However, it could certainly impact Facebook’s mobile and desktop advertising business. With Safari being the dominant browser on iPhones and iPads and Facebook generating most of its revenue from mobile ads, the move could stifle targeted ads.

At the same time, one has to wonder if Apple is onto something here other than simply providing a privacy-enhanced consumer experience. Though the company shut down its mobile ad arm iAd back in December 2016, its Search Ads in the App Store and Apple News ad integrations are still running.

It’s not yet clear if Facebook will notice any major effects on its mobile ad business, but other advertisers are furious about Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention.

Earlier this year, six ad trade organisations published an open letter to Apple, complaining that the functionality blocks cookies without the users noticing.

Although the feature is not an ad blocker, it works similarly to one. That means advertisers could potentially use the same tactics to get users to disable it.