How privacy features in iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur prevent apps and websites from tracking you online

Apple has new features in iOS 14 and macOS 11 Safari that disable trackers from learning which websites you visit to protect your privacy. Here are tips on how to use these privacy features.

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Apple, Inc.

Apple has introduced a new privacy tracking feature in Safari in iOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur that will let you know which websites are tracking you and display the trackers that Safari has blocked. This feature helps to give insight into just how many websites employ trackers to track you across the web and market to you using your data.

SEE: iPhone 12 event: What Apple announced at its 2020 Hi Speed event (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In this tutorial, we'll delve into this new tracking feature, learning how to enable and disable it as well as keep apps and websites from being able to track you across the web. Also check out Lance Whitney's tutorial How to view website trackers in mobile Safari from your iPhone or iPad.

What does the privacy report in Safari do?

In iOS 14 and macOS 11, Apple introduced the Privacy Report feature in Safari. This feature displays a report of the website that you're looking at and what trackers are being used. It shows both trackers that employ cross-site tracking and and those caught by Apple's intelligent tracking prevention.

By default, Safari will automatically block any cross-site trackers (and use intelligent tracking prevention to ensure that other trackers are blocked as well). It will also report these trackers to you through the privacy report. 

Note: If you use any content blockers in Safari, you should note that Safari will block the cross-site trackers itself before the content is allowed to run through the content blocker. So if you have a content blocker installed that does the same kind of cross-site tracking prevention, then it won't be able to run and filter out the content until Safari has done its own processing first. In our testing, this works the same on both iOS and macOS as of the time of this writing.

SEE: iPhone 12: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

How to view the Safari privacy reports on macOS Big Sur

You can also view reports in Safari on macOS by tapping on the privacy report button in the toolbar to the left of the address bar. Doing this will display the information about the current website and the tracker usage on that website (Figure A). 

Figure A

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The popup that appears when you click on this option in the toolbar lets you see the number of trackers on the current page that have been blocked as well as the URLs for the trackers if you expand the "Trackers on This Webpage" section. If you tap on the "i" button in the corner of this popup, then you'll be presented with the full Privacy Report (Figure B) for all of your browsing history for the past 30 days.

Figure B

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Inside the Privacy Report, you can view the last 30 days of blocking history for trackers. You can view it by website that is responsible for the tracker, or the URL of the trackers themselves. It also keeps track of the total number of trackers that it has blocked during this time period. This information is stored locally on your computer and deleted after the 30 days.

How to view the Safari privacy reports on iOS 14

On iOS 14, you can view the privacy report for the current website by tapping on the Reader icon in the address bar, then selecting Privacy Report (Figure C).

Figure C

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The Privacy Report button also displays the number of trackers from the current website.

Once you've done this, the privacy report will be visible and you can see how many trackers have been prevented from tracking you across the web (Figure D). When viewing the report, you can toggle between websites responsible for the trackers and the URLs of the trackers themselves. This information is stored locally on your device for 30 days and then deleted.

Figure D

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The privacy report contains the information about the trackers on websites you've visited.

You can also view reports in Safari on macOS by tapping on the privacy report button in the toolbar to the left of the address bar. The same report interface will be displayed on macOS as in the iOS screenshot above. 

How to enable or disable tracking prevention on iOS 14

For Safari's cross site tracking on iOS 14, see our previously posted article on How to view website trackers in mobile Safari from your iPhone or iPad.

The iOS 14 tracking prevention is enabled by default in Safari. You can disable this feature if you wish by following these steps.

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Select Safari.
  3. For Prevent Cross-Site Tracking, disable the switch.

In addition to this setting, iOS and iPadOS 14 have another setting that can be disabled so that individual apps cannot use cross-site tracking to follow you around online. To ensure this feature is enabled and keeping you safe, follow these steps.

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Select Privacy | Tracking.
  3. Disable the option for Allow Apps to Request to Track.

With this option disabled, you will not see any requests to track you and apps that use this feature will automatically be denied. This option will disable apps from being able to request to track you, but doesn't guarantee that apps cannot still track you through other means. Apps may still be able to track you even without requesting permissions through this feature.

macOS Safari also enables cross-site tracking prevention by default, but it can be disabled by doing the following: 

  1. Open Safari.
  2. Select Safari | Preferences (or press Command + , ).
  3. Select Privacy.
  4. Uncheck the option for "Prevent cross-site tracking" (Figure C).

Figure C

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While you can disable cross-site tracking, it's highly recommended that you don't for the most security while browsing the web.

How to ensure iOS apps cannot utilize cross-site tracking

iOS and iPadOS 14 have another setting that can be disabled so that individual apps cannot use cross-site tracking to follow you around online. To ensure this feature is enabled and keeping you safe, follow these steps.

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Select Privacy | Tracking
  3. Disable the option for Allow Apps to Request to Track

With this option disabled, you will not see any requests to track you and apps that use this feature will automatically be denied. This option will disable apps from being able to request to track you, but doesn't guarantee that apps cannot still track you through other means. Apps may still be able to track you even without requesting permissions through this feature.

How to enable or disable tracking prevention in Safari on macOS 

Just like on iOS, on the macOS version of Safari there is also cross-site tracking prevention turned on by default, but it can be disabled by doing the following:

  1. Open Safari
  2. Select Safari | Preferences (or press Command + , )
  3. Select Privacy
  4. Uncheck the option for "Prevent cross-site tracking" (Figure C)

While cross-site tracking prevention can be disabled by users, it is recommended that you keep this setting on. By doing so, you'll see less targeted advertisements online, and your data cannot be as readily shared among online marketing companies, which is a plus for your privacy. There may be legitimate use cases where you will want to disable the feature: For instance if you're experiencing loading or rendering issues on certain websites, then you may want to disable it when viewing those specific websites, then re-enable it after.

macOS doesn't have the same ability as iOS

macOS does not feature the same ability as iOS which lets you easily disable trackers inside of applications. I hope that this feature will come in a later update to provide the ability to disable cross-site tracking within apps. Until then, you can utilize firewall apps such as Little Snitch to block certain web traffic from your computer for trackers and other services. 

Also see

Editor's note: This article was updated to include additional features. 

By Cory Bohon

Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite te...