Tech, Apple is attracting scrutiny for its practice of checking if the websites you’re visiting visiting are fraudulent and malware-infested after Chinese internet conglomerate Tencent was found listed as a Safe Browsing provider.
The Safari feature — dubbed “Fraudulent Website Warning” in iOS and macOS — is meant to enhance online security by cross-referencing URLs against a blacklist service provided by safe browsing providers such as Google and Tencent.
The concern, as you might imagine, revolves over what Tencent might do with that data. Both Google and Tencent may log IP addresses in order for their anti-phishing systems to work, but Tencent’s frequent cooperation with the Chinese government raises concerns that its data could be used for surveillance or other nefarious ends.
Johns Hopkins University professor Matthew Green noted that a malicious provider could theoretically use Google’s Safe Browsing approach to de-anonymize someone by linking site requests.
So long as Tencent’s method is similar, it could have a way to identify users if the Chinese government pressures it to reveal dissidents.
We’ve asked Apple for comment.
You can turn Fraudulent Website Warning off (in Settings > Safari) as long as you’re willing to accept less vigilance against sketchy pages.
The issue is really that Apple activates the feature by default without alerting users, and that it doesn’t specify just where Tencent operates. It doesn’t help that users are worried about China’s influence on tech, either. Between Apple’s decision to remove a Hong Kong protest app and Blizzard’s ban on a pro-Hong Kong Hearthstone player, it may be hard for Apple and Tencent to escape scrutiny regardless of their behavior.