Apple upgrades Safari for older versions of macOS

Version 11 of the browser adds Intelligent Tracking Protection, a feature that has drawn the ire of the online advertising industry.
  • Gregg Keizer (Computerworld (US))
  • 21 September, 2017 05:40

Apple upgraded the macOS Safari browser to version 11 this week, adding a feature that has drawn the ire of the online advertising industry.

Safari 11 can be downloaded to Macs running 2016's Sierra or 2015's El Capitan from the Mac App Store. Users can access that e-mart by clicking on the Apple menu at the top left of the screen, then choosing "App Store..." The browser upgrade should appear under the "Updates Available" section.

The browser will also be bundled with macOS 10.13, aka High Sierra, set to release Monday, Sept. 25. This week's upgrade targeted users who will, whether permanently or temporarily, stick with the older Sierra or El Capitan.

Apple simultaneously supports three editions of macOS, but only one version of Safari. When the Cupertino, Calif. company ships High Sierra next week, that means it will continue to supply patches for the past two years' worth of operating systems -- Sierra and El Capitan -- but will stop support of 2014's Yosemite and drop Safari 10 entirely.

Those running Yosemite and Safari 10 should consider switching to an alternate browser that still receives security fixes, like Google's Chrome or Mozilla's Firefox.

Although Safari 11 patched several vulnerabilities that had existed in its predecessor, the most notable change was the introduction of what Apple called "Intelligent Tracking Protection," or ITP.

ITP automatically deletes some browser cookies -- the small bits of code used by sites to "remember" previous visitors -- to crack down on cross-site tracking. The practice has been widely criticized by privacy advocates for its use by advertisers to follow users from site to site, then bombard them with ads similar to those clicked on previously. Also, those cross-site cookies will be ignored after 24 hours (unless the user during that time has again interacted with the original site).

Groups representing online advertising blasted ITP in an open letter published in AdWeek Sept. 14, claimed that Apple's move would "sabotage the economic model for the Internet" and asked the company to reconsider before "disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem."

Apple declined, and in a statement of its own, said that the tracking cookies "collected [information] without permission and ... used [that information] for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet."

Unlike browsers such as Chrome and Firefox, Safari is upgraded only once a year, when Apple issues new versions of macOS and iOS. Between those annual upgrades, Apple releases security patches and other bug fixes on a schedule that averages about every 10 weeks.