Apple’s latest commitment to privacy in China, where it earns almost 15% of its revenue.
Apple Inc. says a new “private streaming” feature designed to hide a user’s web browsing behavior from Internet service providers and advertisers will not be available in China for regulatory reasons.
The feature was one of the privacy protections that Apple announced Monday at its annual software developer conference, the latest in a company effort to reduce its user tracking by advertisers and other third parties.
Apple’s decision to retain the function in China is the latest in a series of commitments the company has made about privacy in a country that accounts for nearly 15 percent of its revenue.
In 2018, Apple moved the digital keys used to block iCloud data from Chinese users, allowing authorities to work through national courts to access the information.
The ruling Communist Party of China maintains a comprehensive surveillance system to closely monitor how citizens use the country’s heavily controlled Internet. Under President Xi Jinping, the space for dissent in China has shrunk, while censorship has expanded.
No more “fingerprints”
Apple’s “private relay” feature first sends web traffic to a server maintained by Apple, where information called an IP address is removed. From there, Apple sends the traffic to a second server managed by a third party operator that assigns the user a temporary IP address and sends the traffic to their destination website.
The use of a third party in the second jump of the streaming system is intentional, Apple said, to prevent even Apple from knowing both the user’s identity and the website the user is visiting.
Apple said it will also not offer “private relays” to Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.
Apple has not yet revealed which external partners it will use in the system, but said it plans to name them in the future. The feature is unlikely to be available to the public until later this year.
IP addresses can be used to track users in a variety of ways, including as a key ingredient in “fingerprinting,” a practice in which advertisers combine disparate data to deduce a user’s identity. Both Apple and Alphabet Inc. Google prohibits it.
Combined with Apple’s previous steps, the “private relay” feature “will make IP addresses useless as a fingerprint mechanism,” Charles Farina, head of innovation at the digital marketing firm, told Reuters Adswerve.
It will also prevent advertisers from using IP addresses to identify a person’s location, he said.