Archive for March 27, 2021

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Firefox’s SmartBlock

Thomas Wisniewski (via Hacker News):

In building these extra-strong privacy protections in Private Browsing windows and Strict Mode, we have been confronted with a fundamental problem: introducing a policy that outright blocks trackers on the web inevitably risks blocking components that are essential for some websites to function properly. This can result in images not appearing, features not working, poor performance, or even the entire page not loading at all.


To reduce this breakage, Firefox 87 is now introducing a new privacy feature we are calling SmartBlock. SmartBlock intelligently fixes up web pages that are broken by our tracking protections, without compromising user privacy.

SmartBlock does this by providing local stand-ins for blocked third-party tracking scripts. These stand-in scripts behave just enough like the original ones to make sure that the website works properly. They allow broken sites relying on the original scripts to load with their functionality intact.

This sounds like quite a different approach from Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention. SmartBlock apparently uses a static list of trackers, whereas Safari tries to learn (on device) what to block. So Firefox may be more reliable with known bad actors, whereas Safari may catch more of the long tail but be less consistent from one device to another. SmartBlock tries to prevent breaking sites by substituting stand-in scripts, whereas Safari loads the trackers but segregates the data. So it’s possible that Firefox will break some sites if the stand-in scripts don’t behave properly, but it should provide better performance and use less bandwidth. On the other hand, some sites don’t work in Safari unless you turn off ITP.


Multiple Alternative Channels

Asha Barbaschow (MacRumors, Slashdot):

Apple has responded further to the Australian consumer watchdog’s probe of app marketplaces, this time rejecting characterisation that the Apple App Store is the most dominant app marketplace and saying there are other options for iOS users, such as by going to a website.

“Apple perceives and treats other distributors of apps, for platforms other than iOS, as significant competitors whose pricing and policies constrain Apple’s ability to exercise power over developers,” the iPhone maker said in a submission [PDF] to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)


“Apple faces competitive constraints from distribution alternatives within the iOS ecosystem (including developer websites and other outlets through which consumers may obtain third party apps and use them on their iOS devices) and outside iOS,” it said.

Which developer sites are distributing iOS apps? Is Apple actually citing competition from jailbreak apps?

“Even if a user only owns iOS-based devices, distribution is far from limited to the Apple App Store because developers have multiple alternative channels to reach that user.

“The whole web is available to them, and iOS devices have unrestricted and uncontrolled access to it. One common approach is for users to purchase and consume digital content or services on a website.”

Ah, yes, the sweet solution.

Dan Masters:

This smacks of disingenuousness.

Marco Arment:



A whole list of relatively unimportant apis turn up but PWAs seem to be deliberately restricted.

Kosta Eleftheriou:

brb, implementing my Apple Watch keyboard as a web app.

Colin Cornaby:

Apple: We have to be the only source of apps on the iPhone to keep users and the network safe

Also Apple: What do you mean we’re the only source of apps

Mike Rockwell:

But we all know — including the folks at Apple — that this is pretty lame. Web apps are not even close to being in the same league as native apps.

There should be a way to distribute apps outside of the App Store. The absence of this capability is holding the platform back.

Nick Heer:

Regardless of whether I would personally prefer more flexibility with my own devices, it is frustrating that I cannot decide that without switching to a worse platform that has generally lower-quality apps.


I wish apps did not individually handle updates in their own way on my Mac. I wish that all of them could tie into a universal software update mechanism, so my apps are always up to date no matter whether I got them from the App Store or elsewhere. I appreciate Sparkle for what it is, but I prefer silent updates done in the background.

Apple certainly could make it possible for a universal update mechanism to work with apps not sold through the App Store. It even used to maintain a MacUpdate-style list of Mac apps, with direct download links. It’s just that it doesn’t consider this a high priority and, as with security, wants people to ascribe the benefits to the App Store itself.