Apple’s upcoming iOS 14.5 release comes with a feature that will redirect all Safaris Safe Browsing traffic through Apple-controlled proxy servers as a solution to preserve users’ privacy and prevent Google from learning the IP addresses of iOS users.
The new feature, discovered by a Reddit user earlier this week and covered in an 8-bit report, has been formally confirmed by Maciej Stachowiak, head of Webkit Engineering at Apple.
The new feature will only work when users enable the “Website Fraud Fraud”
This enables support for Google’s Safe Browsing technology in Safari. Safe Browsing technology works by capturing a URL that the user is trying to access, and sending the URL anonymously to Google’s Safe Browsing servers, where Google can access the site and search for threats.
If malware, phishing scams, or other threats are found on the site, Google asks the user’s Safari browser to block access to the site and display a red warning in full screen.
Many years ago, when Google launched the Safe Browsing API, the company knew which sites a user had access to; In recent years, Google has taken several steps to anonymize data sent from the user’s devices via the Safe Browsing feature.
But while Google has anonymized URL strings, by sending the link in cropped and hash mode, Google still sees the IP address where a Safe Browsing check comes through.
Apple’s new feature basically takes all of these Safe Browsing checks and sends them through an Apple-owned proxy server, so all requests appear to come from the same IP address.
Many will call the move useless, as Google still could not see which URL the user checked, but the feature is consistent with other measures Apple has taken recently, focusing on improving users’ privacy.
Many of these features have often attacked and disrupted Google’s huge presence in the user analytics and tracking sector.
This includes groundbreaking broad-spectrum anti-tracking features in Safari, and forcing app makers to add “privacy labels” to their App Store listings, a requirement that Google has mysteriously avoided by simply not updating any of its apps since last year.
iOS 14.5 is currently in beta and is expected to be released in the coming months.