Apple has released iPadOS/iOS 14.4.1 and macOS 11.2.3 which includes a security update to Webkit – the size of the download particularly on macOS 11.2.3 lends me to believe that it also includes some low key bug fixes as well given that it was over 4GB and even on iOS 14.4.1 the update was more than 150MB (the framework itself in terms of it’s binary size is only around 1/10th that size). I’ve installed it on all my devices and no problems or noticeable changes – Safari is as snappy as always but I’m looking forward to macOS 11.3 because it includes an updated Safari (it has been updated to Safari 14.1) which will hopefully include a lot of the improvements that have been present in the Safari Technology Preview builds over the last few months.

It appears that the concerns about tracking, third party cookies and general ‘privacy invasive’ techniques employed by tech giants are coming under the microscope with the release of iOS/iPad 14.5 and macOS 11.3 which will require app vendors to ask customers permission to allow tracking beyond the site that is being used. Facebook took in its usual stride of throwing a temper tantrum while resorting to the usual hyperbole by claiming that Apple is destroying their business (they’re worried that, if customers were given a choice, they might not won’t the dodgy big brother privacy invasion?) where as Twitter has said it would have a modest impact but then again it is rumoured that Twitter is looking at offering a ‘premium’ tier of their service which will offer more features and being ad free. Google on the other hand have moved away from tracking individual users in favour of Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) (link) which places individuals into groups so as a result the relationship is abstracted away so that there is no longer that individual tracking.

Yes, some critics have bought up the fact that FLoC ignore what the anger regarding privacy invasion was all about – most people accept that if you use a platform then it makes sense for that platform to then use the information that you provide as an end user to not only make the service better to use (eg. tracking what videos you watch and suggest content that is similar) but also target ads that are relevant to you. The problem were third party cookies, Facebook creating ‘shadow’ profiles so even if you didn’t visit Facebook explicitly there was information being harvested by virtue of a website using Facebook as a vehicle for the comment section of an article.

What is also rather frustrating has been the meme put out there that so-and-so tech giant sells your information to advertisers – no they don’t ‘sell’ your private data to third parties. Firstly because it wouldn’t make any sense as a business model to sell the very data that gives you an competitive advantage so why would you give it away (even if it had a price tag attached to it)? Secondly the advertisement system doesn’t work that that – for example, a third party will go to Google, Facebook or Twitter and give them the target demographic that they wish to target, “I want to target males, between the ages of 23-35, interest in vintage computers and like eating pizza”, and the tech giant then comes back, “sure, and here is the cost of the campaign”. No information is swapped hands, the information is retained by the said technology company

I would hazard to guess that Google has changed to the FLoC system because they’ve realised that a lot of the information they have collected is of very little value – it uses a large amount of storage space, it consumes a lot of power and the extra data retained and the benefits yield from it doesn’t add up. It shouldn’t be surprising that at the beginning a technology company will go all in on something then as time goes on they realise that what they thought was necessary turns out not to be so, that the ‘fine grained’ nature’ of data collection and association is no better than the FLoC system they’re looking at becoming the default way of doing in 2022.

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