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Apple Collecting Browsing Data in Safari Using Differential Privacy in macOS High Sierra

With the release of macOS High Sierra, Apple is now collecting data from the Safari browser using differential privacy technology, reports TechCrunch. Apple is aiming to gain information about browsing habits to help identify problematic websites that use excessive power or too much memory.
This form of data collection is the first of its kind for Safari, aimed at identifying sites that use excessive power and crash the browser by monopolizing too much memory. Apple is also documenting the popularity of these problematic domains, in order to prioritize which sites it addresses first.
Apple first announced its adoption of differential privacy in 2016 alongside the debut of iOS 10. Differential privacy is a technique that allows Apple to collect user information while keeping user data entirely private. It uses hashing, subsampling, and noise injection to enable crowd-sourced learning without compromising user privacy.

Differential privacy is already in use on Mac and iOS devices for emoji use, search predictions, predictive text, and other small features that use machine learning for improvement.


Because of this, Apple does not have a specific message about the new Safari data collection when macOS High Sierra is installed, and it is lumped in with the general Mac analytics data notice that is presented when setting up a new Mac. From Apple's Privacy notice regarding analytics:
If you agree to send Mac Analytics information to Apple, it may include the following:
- Details about app or system crashes, freezes or kernel panics.
- Information about events on your Mac (for example whether a certain function such as waking your Mac was successful or not).
- Usage information (for example, data about how you use Apple and third-party software, hardware, and services).

Analytics data contains your computer's hardware and software specifications, including information about devices connected to your Mac and the versions of the operating system and apps you're using on your Mac. Personal data is either not logged at all in the reports generated by your Mac, is subject to privacy preserving techniques such as differential privacy, or is removed from any reports before they're sent to Apple.
While users are given the option to turn off analytics when setting up a Mac, there's also a Security and Privacy setting that can be accessed to turn it off any time. To get to the feature, click on the Apple at the top of the menu bar, and choose "System Preferences." From there, open up Security and Privacy, select the "Privacy" tab and then choose Analytics to choose whether or not to share data with Apple.



Top Rated Comments

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21 weeks ago

Apple does it. "Oh, its ok." "I'm going to leave it on." "Good for them." Google does the same thing? "Oh. My. God. They are selling my information to the aliens."


It's almost as though the two have completely different business models, one of which hinges on analyzing and profiting off your personal data, and the other of which does not.
Rating: 22 Votes
21 weeks ago
Apple does it. "Oh, its ok." "I'm going to leave it on." "Good for them." Google does the same thing? "Oh. My. God. They are selling my information to the aliens."
Rating: 16 Votes
21 weeks ago
Well done Apple.

We can have technology advances and privacy. Don’t let the spyware that is google and Facebook tell you otherwise.
Rating: 13 Votes
21 weeks ago

Apple does it. "Oh, its ok." "I'm going to leave it on." "Good for them." Google does the same thing? "Oh. My. God. They are selling my information to the aliens."

Wow, are you ever missing the point. Google sells to anyone, not just aliens.
Rating: 13 Votes
21 weeks ago
I'm usually in favor of opting out of stuff like this - but if it helps them fix those runaway Safari processes that use up all my RAM, I'm all for it.
Rating: 9 Votes
21 weeks ago

Apple does it. "Oh, its ok." "I'm going to leave it on." "Good for them." Google does the same thing? "Oh. My. God. They are selling my information to the aliens."

Well because what Apple and Google do with your data are two different things. So yes, it is a different scenario.
Rating: 8 Votes
21 weeks ago
Good. Anonymized data to fix browser performance on troublesome web sites. Still an opt out for the paranoid, but I think I’ll plan on leaving this one on.
Rating: 5 Votes
21 weeks ago

Apple does it. "Oh, its ok." "I'm going to leave it on." "Good for them." Google does the same thing? "Oh. My. God. They are selling my information to the aliens."

yes except this is completely anonymous, not tied to me, and is used for system reliability rather than selling to advertisers. yeah same thing, sure....
Rating: 4 Votes
21 weeks ago

Different how? As far as I can tell they use customer data for the exact same things.

Well Google is by definition an advertising company. Ever wonder why they give away Google Docs and stuff for free? They tie you into their ecosystem and sell your data. Apple uses your data to better their OS and it is not for personalized results, rather overarching fixes, like preventing Safari from crashing, giving everyone better word predictions, etc. Apple doesn't even run an advertising network anymore, only the App Store ads which are served to everyone equally.
Rating: 3 Votes
21 weeks ago

That's why i don't believe it even if it is hashed..

Apple brings out privacy type stuff masking to try and say 'its not that bad because its done in a certain way'...... That's fine, if you know that you know you are still giving it up anyway.. but the concept of "differential" to isolate the actual data itself gets more to light than privacy itself.. regardless. With the whole 'differential' i think we are more likely to loose focus on the fact we are still giving info up, doesn't matter how its hashed, secured or what..

Thing is, If you know you are giving it up regardless, then you make that choice.. But the fact its 'differential' also means we will be happily give "more" of it up, because we don't know.


You do understand that the word differential from the term differential privacy is not Apple's marketing speech, but actually the term coined by the researches who created this field back in 2006, right? This is not simply smoke and mirrors on Apple's side, but an understood process to anonymize data and Apple has stated in multiple occasions that there's no way to tie that data back to an existing user.
Rating: 3 Votes

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