Apple’s Next Version of Safari Will Block Desktop Ad Tracking and Autoplay Videos

It's also getting more into AR, VR and AI

Apple CEO Tim Cook opened the company's annual developer conference on Monday in California. Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

Even as data is becoming an increasingly hot commodity for targeting online ads, Apple is launching a way to prevent brands from getting too digitally close for comfort.

An upcoming desktop version of Apple’s Safari browser will automatically block ad tracking across the internet. The feature, announced today at the company’s annual WWDC conference, will be a part of High Sierra, the newly announced next version of macOS. And while it’s just one of the many updates announced, it’s one that could have major impacts for marketers and ad-tech companies that benefit from massive troves of user data.

The news comes just days after Google announced it will soon update Chrome, its own browser, to block bothersome ads it deems too annoying or taking too long to load. It’s also not the first time Apple has gotten into the ad-blocking game. In 2015, it started letting developers build ad-blocking apps for the mobile version of Safari.

Along with blocking ad tracking, Apple’s next version of Safari will also block videos that automatically play, a potentially major blow to publishers that increasingly rely on digital video advertising revenue.

According to Eric Franchi, a digital media and marketing angel investor and co-founder of the ad-tech firm Undertone, the announcements by Apple and Google will “change the landscape very significantly.” However, they are doing it in different ways. On the one hand, Google is taking a more collaborative approach by giving publishers a heads-up and offering tools for what will and won’t be blocked. It’s also creating a way for users to fund publishers if they’d rather not see ads but still want to pay for content. On the other end, Apple is “taking a hard line.”

“The former could affect, well, everyone,” Franchi said. “The latter could hit publishers pretty hard. Since Facebook made autoplay video acceptable again, publishers have jumped on the bandwagon. It’s widespread.”

However, like every Apple keynote, the Safari update was one of the more minor announcements in a presentation that lasted over two hours. There were also a number of major hardware updates, including bigger and more powerful iPads and desktop computers, and software updates for Apple Watch and Siri. Apple also rolled out new developer kits for virtual reality and augmented reality, which could potentially help both emerging mediums become much more mainstream.

Apple also debuted its rumored smart speaker, the HomePod, which will debut later this year and compete directly with Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home.

“We have such a great portable music experience, but what about our homes?” Apple CEO Tim Cook said. “We think we can do a lot to make this experience much better. Just like we did with portable music, we want to reinvent home music.”

The speaker, which will cost $349, includes the same chip that’s in the iPhone, which will be able to adapt to whatever room it’s in and also act like a “musicologist” by creating personalized playlists based on what people like to listen to. It’ll also have Siri integration that will allow for integration with every other Apple device and help the company better compete with other digital voice assistants.

“Just like just the iPod reinvented music in our pockets, HomePod is going to reinvent music in our homes,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s svp of product marketing, said. “It’s perhaps the biggest brain inside of the speaker.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.