Apple has a feature that alerts users when they're about to visit a website that is known to host malware, or is believed to be a phishing site. This feature is getting an update with iOS 14.5 in order to better protect users' privacy. Till now, the technique involved a check of a database hosted on Google servers, but with iOS 14.5, it now uses an Apple proxy. This is intended to add an extra layer of privacy to the protection Apple already had in place.
When Google crawls the web, it checks sites it indexes for malware, and when a site is found to host malware, it's added to a database of fraudulent sites. It also uses statistical models to identify suspected phishing sites and adds those to the database too, as explained by 9to5Mac. This database is scanned by Apple, taking steps to ensure Google never sees the URL you were trinyg to visit. Apple also cautions that Google may log your IP address. A report in The 8-Bit explains how Apple is improving this privacy feature with iOS 14.5.
The report cites Apple as saying that before visiting a website, Safari may send hashed prefixes of the URL to Google Safe Browsing to check if there’s a match. And since Apple uses a hashed prefix, Google cannot learn which website the user is trying to visit. "Up until iOS 14.5, Google could also see the IP address of where that request is coming from. However, since Apple now proxies Google Safe Browsing traffic, it further safeguards users’ privacy while browsing using Safari," the report said.
After the report in The 8-Bit, Apple's WebKit head Maciej Stachowiak said on Twitter that while the report's original explanation wasn't exactly accurate, the core claim is indeed correct - "Safari does indeed proxy the service via Apple servers to limit the risk of information leak," Stachowiak said.
This article is a bit confused on the details of how Safe Browsing works, but in the new iOS beta, Safari does indeed proxy the service via Apple servers to limit the risk of information leak.https://t.co/TlDZNMO8do— othermaciej (@othermaciej) February 11, 2021
This new iOS 14.5 feature comes at a time Apple has been raming up its data privacy efforts. The company had earlier launched its app privacy labels and more recently, the Cupertino-based giant rolled out a new requirement for apps to seek permission from users for ad-tracking.