Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

At WWDC, Apple Furthers Its Privacy Lead

April Glaser, Slate:

To use the internet is to constantly slam into locked doors. Want to watch a video? Please sign in. Care to comment? You’ll need to remember your password. Want to keep reading an article? Create an account. Many of us manage these password requests by using our login credentials from Google and Facebook to register with other websites. Clicking on “Sign in with Facebook” and “Sign in with Google” isn’t exactly frictionless, but it’s close.

[…]

Enter Apple. At its annual developer conference on Monday, the company unveiled a new “Sign in with Apple” button for Apple device users to create new logins on websites and apps. It’s the same idea as those Google and Facebook buttons but from a company that’s known to be far more trustworthy with customer data—and that has been emphasizing its privacy bona fides as the other tech companies have come under scrutiny. But Apple isn’t just offering a third option. Users who opt to create new accounts with Apple can also choose to use a randomly generated email address that forwards messages to their actual inbox, preserving customer privacy even further by allowing users to keep their email addresses to themselves without sharing them with another company. […]

Apple:

Please note these summaries of the latest changes and see the App Store Review Guidelines for full details. All guidelines are now enforced for new and existing apps, unless otherwise indicated.

  • Guidelines 1.3 and 5.1.4. In order to help keep kids’ data private, apps in the kids category and apps intended for kids cannot include third-party advertising or analytics software and may not transmit data to third parties. This guideline is now enforced for new apps. Existing apps must follow this guideline by September 3, 2019.

[…]

  • Guideline 5.1.1(vii) (New). Apps that compile information from any source that is not directly from the user or without the user’s explicit consent, even public databases, are not permitted on the App Store.

  • Guideline 5.1.1(i). Apps must get consent for data collection, even if the data is considered anonymous at the time of or immediately following collection.

[…]

Sign In with Apple will be available for beta testing this summer. It will be required as an option for users in apps that support third-party sign-in when it is commercially available later this year.

Victoria Song, Gizmodo:

If you’ve ever hunted for a period tracking app, you know there’s a crapton of them in the App Store—and not all of them are good. With Cycles, Apple is adding female health tracking to its Apple Watch. Users will be able to log symptoms, as well as receive notifications of upcoming periods and fertile windows. It’ll also be available for non-watch users via the Health app.

The big thing to note here is Apple’s emphasis on privacy. Flo, Glow, Clue, and Ovia are all big-name women’s health apps that have had some not-so-great press regarding what they do with sensitive data. And better yet, integrating it into the main Health app means you don’t have to do any research or pay fees for a basic tracker.

Apple has continued to emphasize the ways in which they do not track you and are not interested in collecting individual user data — instead, preferring to do as much as possible on users’ devices.1 This is great news for the billion or so people who use Apple’s products, and it puts pressure on others to do better. In some cases, that pressure comes as a result of consumer awareness; in others — as with Apple’s requirement that apps which implement buttons to sign in with Google or Facebook also add a Sign In with Apple button2 — it’s more forceful.

As I’ve written previously, though, it remains bizarre to me that this is an argument that Apple can reasonably make: we build products that do not surveil you or allow advertisers to exploit your private data. That shouldn’t be a marketing statement; that should be a baseline requirement for any service, app, or product. I get the frequent framing of these decisions as a luxury only enjoyed by consumers of pricier electronics, but I think that frustration is misplaced. That privacy is somehow not seen as a fundamental right or worthy of strict legal protections is deeply concerning.


  1. To such an extent that, during the live WWDC recording of John Gruber’s podcast, Craig Federighi flipped the script on the common complaint that Apple is ostensibly catching up to Google, et al. on machine learning, according to Chance Miller’s recap:

    In fact, if you watch recent events from the other guys, you’d be surprised to see they’ve started to say on-device machine learning. They’re actually seeing the light on that topic. I think they’re disadvantaged because part of what makes this possible is building this great hardware and the integration of hardware and software. Pulling this off between a random fleet of devices, it’s really just impossible.

    I think Apple’s long-term bet on privacy is starting to become noticeable for the public. ↩︎

  2. Think Google or Facebook themselves will add this option to their apps, or even be required to do so? ↩︎