Why Twitter forgets your timeline preference with Safari • The Registry

Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) in Safari has enforced privacy by forgetting, and the result is that Twitter users may have to remind Safari of their preferences.

Apple’s privacy technology was designed to block third-party cookies in their Safari browser. But according to software developer Jeff Johnson, it maintains such tight control over browser-based storage that if the user hasn’t visited Twitter for a week, ITP will remove the preferences set by the user.

So instead of seeing “Recent Tweets” – a chronological timeline – Safari users returning to Twitter after seven days can expect to see tweets organized by Twitter’s algorithm under its “Home” setting.

Twitter alone had hoped to make it the default for everyone. Earlier this year, the social network briefly removed an option to display tweets in chronological order by default, forcing users to view its suggested tweets. Algorithmic social media feeds are designed to promote outrage, forgiveness, engagement, which tends to lead to greater usage and improved ad revenue.

However, Twitter’s efforts to move users to its curated feed have been poorly received. Dissatisfaction with the change caused an uproar and in March the biz reverse course and restored the ability for users to choose to see the most timely tweets first.

Safari complicated this choice by choosing to have a short memory for privacy reasons. Therefore, Apple’s browser will forget users’ Twitter preferences in time if it does not remind them frequently enough.

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“If you edit your timeline with the ‘sparkling’ icon at the top of https://twitter.com/homethe change will be reflected in [the browser’s] database,” says Johnson, who runs Underpass App Company, in a blog post. “Your Twitter display settings such as font size and color scheme are also stored in the database.”

Safari, he says, stores its settings for Twitter timeline display preferences in a IndexedDB database. But ITP’s storage policy sets a seven-day cap on all writable storage. This prevents cookies from lingering too long, but isn’t ideal when it comes to stored preferences.

“ITP limits the expiration of all cookies created in JavaScript to seven days and deletes all other scriptable storage after seven days of no user interaction with the website,” says Johnson, who expects the issue affects Safari users who visit other websites that store data in the same way.

Apple WebKit security and privacy engineer John Wilander oversaw an effort to develop the IsLoggedIn APIwhich aims to tie storage to authentication state in a way that might solve ITP impermanence, but for now the API remains incomplete.

There’s a way to disable Safari’s behavior, Johnson says. On macOS, this involves checking the “Show Develop menu in menu bar” box in Safari’s Preferences menu, then selecting “Disable deletion of data other than cookies after 7 days of no user interaction (ITP)” via the Experimental Features selection in the Develop menu. On iOS, the menu path is Settings->Safari>Advanced->Experimental Features. ®

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