Published: Tue, October 15, 2019
Electronics | By Kelly Massey

Apple Safari browser may send your browsing data to Chinese company Tencent

Apple Safari browser may send your browsing data to Chinese company Tencent

Apple's statement suggests that only devices registered to China get the Tencent list (the rest of us get Google's), and that the web addresses you visit are never sent to either company.

Just like the Safe Browsing feature in Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, Safari's fraudulent website warning feature has also been created to protect users from various online threats by simply checking every website they visit against a regularly updated list of malicious websites. If a user does that, IP addresses won't be shared, but Apple also won't be able to check websites against Tencent's or Google's lists. The IP address of a user's device is shared when a website is found to be suspicious and a warning is sent.

More importantly, though, we know what Google is doing, but "Tencent Safe Browsing" is considerably more opaque, which is especially worrisome for a company that works closely with the Chinese government and is known for patriotically toeing the party line. As such, it's an active participant in censoring content online. The browser can warn you by accessing Google's Safe Browsing service, which functions as a giant blacklist of malicious websites on the internet. Both companies have a history of conceding to the demands of the Chinese government.

In a statement to ZDNet, Cupertino claims the Safari browser never exposes a user's website lookup data when it comes to detecting fraudulent web pages. Safari regularly receives a list of URL prefix hashes that apply to malicious sites. If a user tries to go to a site that matches one of these prefixes, Safari then checks with the full, current list of specific websites maintained by Google or Tencent to see if the address the user wants to go to is on it. If your URL matches one on the list, you'll be shown a warning that you're navigating to a risky site. "These safe browsing providers may also log your IP address".

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Earlier today, a report raised questions about Apple sharing your browsing history with Tencent. Last week, it pulled a smartphone app used by pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong. Apple CEO Tim Cook defended his company's decision in a letter to employees obtained by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, saying that the app was nixed because it was being used to "maliciously target individual officers for violence" and "victimize individuals and property where no police are present".

Likewise, a Buzzfeed News report alleges Apple told some Apple TV+ show developers to "avoid portraying China in a poor light".

Fraudulent Website Warning can be turned off by launching the settings menu on your iPhone, choosing "Safari", and toggling the switch next to "Fraudulent Website Warning".

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