(Credit: Apple)

The personalized memoji were cool. Making Siri more useful is welcome. But the announcements Apple made this week at WWDC that may have the biggest effect on your online life were around its plans for guarding your browsing privacy online, especially around preventing browser fingerprinting.

To prevent third-party trackers from monitoring your activities across the web, you can run a web browser extension like Privacy Badger from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, to block a tracker's ability to trace your activity without your permission. Browser plug-ins like Ghostery or Adblock Plus for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox web browsers perform a similar function.

Blocking trackers and managing cookies only gets you part of the way to protecting your privacy, however. When you browse websites, your browser and device settings leave hints about you and your system: Your browser type, extensions installed, networking configuration, clock time, wireless settings, and so on. Looked at together, these small bits of information can form a unique set of characteristics for your machine that can be used to partially or completely identify your individual device and then track you across the web without your consent.

The newest privacy browser

The EFF calls browser fingerprinting "an extremely subtle and problematic method of tracking" that it and other online privacy communities are working to solve. You can tweak your settings so that your system profile doesn't stand out in the crowd, or you can use the Tor browser to mask your browser fingerprint in part through private browsing, but each method can leave you with a diminished web experience.

At its Worldwide Developer Conference held this week in San Jose, Apple threw its weight behind the fingerprints effort. "Data companies are clever and relentless, and in addition to cookies, they use another method called fingerprinting," said Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president for software engineering. "With Mojave, we are making it much harder for trackers to create a unique fingerprint."

Federighi said the MacOS Mojave as well as the iOS 12 versions of the Safari browser will prevent data companies from tracking you across the web through your browser fingerprinting by presenting a simplified system configuration, showing just built-in fonts, and not supporting legacy plug-ins, which can contribute to a unique fingerprint.

The result with Safari browser fingerprinting, according to Federighi, is your device will look like everyone else's device, making it more difficult to uniquely identify and track you.

(The EFF has a browser tool that checks how well your browser and extensions are -- or are not -- protecting you from online tracking techniques. Try the Panopticlick from the EFF if you want to see how exposed you and your browser are.)

Control over social media elements

Along with tackling data companies that track you using device fingerprinting, Apple is taking on Facebook, Google, and other companies that track you across the web without your knowledge.

"We believe that your private data should remain private," Federighi said. "We think you should be in control of who sees it."

Safari can already reduce the ability of cookies to track you. This week, Apple said it will address how social media elements on a webpage can track you.

Like and Share buttons and comment fields can track you whether you click them or not, Federighi said. With the upcoming version of Safari, you will need to specifically opt-in to each social element so it can't track you without your permission.


Better password management

Apple said it will also improve how Safari creates and manages passwords in iOS 12 and MacOS Mojave. Safari will do a better job of automatically creating and storing unique and strong passwords for you and then autofilling them across websites and apps. Safari will also flag passwords you are reusing so you can update them. Passwords will be stored in your iCloud Keychain, so they will be available on all your Apple devices.

Apple is also making it easier to deal with security codes you receive by SMS. One-time passcodes you receive over SMS will appear automatically as AutoFill suggestions with iOS 12.

You will also be able to share and receive passwords between nearby iOS devices, so, for example, you can autofill passwords from your iOS device to your nearby tvOS device.

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Clifford is an Associate Managing Editor for CNET's He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.