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How to Optimize Safari for Maximum Privacy

Apple’s Safari browser can defend against tracking by advertisers, ask websites not to track you and prevent insecure transmission of important data, but not all of these features are enabled by default.

Safari doesn’t contain as many privacy-concerning features as Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, but there are still a few options you might want to tweak.

Cookies

Cookies are a common way for advertisers to track you online. Most cookies are restricted to a single website and save information such as your login state, but third-party cookies are used by advertisers to track you across websites.

First, you’ll want to open Safari’s Preferences window from the gear-shaped menu icon. If you’re using a Mac, click the Safari menu on the panel and select Preferences instead.

Next, click over to the Privacy tab and ensure the “From Third Parties and Advertisers” option next to Block Cookies is selected. You can also set it to Always — this will block all cookies, but you won’t be able to log into websites.

You might also want to remove your existing cookies by clicking the Remove All Website Data button. You’ll have to log back into websites after clearing your cookies.

Google Safe Browsing

Safari contains the same Google Safe Browsing feature found in Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. Safari automatically downloads a list of malicious website addresses from Google in the background. When you visit one of the websites that appears on the list, Safari contacts Google and, if the website is confirmed as malicious, blocks it with a warning message.

This feature helps protect you from malicious software and phishing web pages that try to steal your personal data. It also shouldn’t be possible for Google to tell the specific web page you tried to visit. If you’re more worried about the privacy implications, you can disable the option by unchecking the “Warn when visiting a fraudulent website” check box on the Security pane.

Insecure Forms

While you’re on the Security pane, you should also ensure the “Ask before sending a non-secure form to a secure website” is enabled. It’ll protect your privacy by alerting you before sending your data to a secure website in an insecure manner. This protects you if a website owner didn’t code their login pages or payment pages properly.

Do Not Track

Safari contains the same “do-not-track” feature found in every major browser except Google Chrome, but it’s pretty hidden. This feature informs websites that you don’t want ot be tracked — unfortunately, most websites will ignore this request at the moment.

First, you’ll need to click on the Advanced icon and enable the “Show Develop Menu in Menu Bar” option.

After that, you can click the page-shaped menu button, point to Develop and click the “Send Do Not Track HTTP Header” option. If you’re using a Mac, click the Develop menu on the menu bar instead.

Search Suggestions

Safari’s search suggestions feature sends every keystroke you type into its search box to your default search engine.

Unlike other web browsers, Safari has no built-in option that disables this. If you’re using a Mac, you can install Glims for Safari, which adds the option to disable it.

Private Browsing

Safari contains the same private browsing feature found in other web browsers. Private browsing doesn’t protect your privacy from websites, but it ensures no private browsing data is left on your computer. You can enable it from the gear-shaped menu icon on Windows or by clicking the Safari menu on a Mac.

You’ll see a “PRIVATE” indicator in the address bar when private browsing is enabled. This option isn’t permanent; Safari won’t open in private browsing mode after you close it.


Safari’s privacy-concerning features are pretty mild compared to other browsers — particularly Internet Explorer, which can send your entire browsing history to Microsoft — but search suggestions and Google’s Safe Browsing service may still concern some users. Each offers benefits, but you can now make an informed decision.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/26/12

Comments (2)

  1. Marianne Jelley

    Thanks for this informative article. Pulled all the mentioned windows, made the changes and followed you all the way. Feeling much safer now that I actually know what half of those setting were for.

  2. Chris Hoffman

    Do bear in mind that Safe Browsing is a useful security feature. I don’t disable it, personally.

    I just believe users should make an informed decision; many users would consider it a privacy problem.

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