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Apple is holding Google in check when it comes to web privacy

Business Insider has an interesting look at the battle for web privacy — and how Apple is effectively keeping Google’s data-grabbing ambitions in check across the web as a whole.

New web standards are agreed by the World Wide Web Consortium, also known as the W3C. In theory, each member organization gets one vote, but the site’s Shona Ghosh argues that the reality is somewhat different…

Despite a one-vote-per-organization rule, critics say Google’s ability to devote more staff time and resources to thinking and arguing about these issues gives the search giant an outsize say when it comes to determining how websites fundamentally work.

‘Google is by far the largest player on standards bodies and so Google directly or indirectly has a large say in defining what the neutral web is,’ said one source, also a W3C member.

‘In some ways truthfully, in some ways disingenuously, Google can say: “We’re just doing what the web defines, and everybody else is deviating from what the web actually is.” Largely because … Google outnumbers people on standards bodies ten to one,’ the person added.

Ghosh cites the Bluetooth Web API as an example. This would allow web apps to control local Bluetooth devices, which could be cool — but would also create significant privacy concerns, making it possible to track a user’s location in real-time.

Chrome and Edge implemented it, but Apple refused to do so in Safari, with the company’s WebKit head describing it as “scary.”

Google might have been able to force it through as an official web standard but for Apple’s opposition.

Peter Snyder, chief privacy officer at Brave […] said that Safari, due its size, can essentially block Google from bulldozing new standards through the W3C.

‘While Safari is not Chrome, it’s large and it’s important, and for many reasons, sites need to work in Safari,’ he said. ‘If Safari says, “We think this is bad” and folds it hands, that’s a strong deterrent from the rest of the web from being like, “Well, we’re going to use this anyway.”‘

Even some of those you would expect to be on Google’s side – like the ad industry – have expressed concern at the search engine giant’s disproportionate influence on the W3C.

A letter submitted by a coalition of adtech firms to the W3C’s advisory board in July argued: ‘Different W3C member organizations are able to dedicate differing numbers of people, with varying amounts of time and expertise. Member organizations with the capacity to field larger numbers of people with the time and mandate to navigate the complexity of multiple groups, processes, history, and documents are advantaged.’

Google naturally denies this, saying that anyone can join the consortium. But it seems even those who don’t use Apple products have reason to be glad that the Cupertino company has its own influence: with Apple users among the most appealing demographic for premium brands, anything Safari refuses to implement is unlikely to see widespread adoption on the web.

Photo: PxHere

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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