At Apple’s annual conference for developers, the tech giant announced a suite of new tools with privacy at the core of the offer that is designed to differentiate it from other big-name service providers – that and an astronomically expensive new computer. But those new privacy features are worth exploring.

Apple’s increased interest in its services business has become common knowledge in recent months, as the company’s hardware business has begun to struggle – in the quarter leading up to March of this year, iPhone revenues dropped 17%. This week, a crucial part of Apple’s services pitch – privacy – entered fuller view, as the company showed how it is anchoring its user offer to this value. Privacy is now very much a selling point. As TechCrunch puts it, Apple is trying to transform into a privacy-as-a-service-company. It has said as much in its advertising:

Speaking at the event in San Jose California, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi presented the company’s new single sign-on system, the imaginatively named “Sign in with Apple”, which was greeted with the customary WWDC whoops and cheers. It works across the operating systems of the iPhone, Macs, Apple TV, and the Apple Watch.

Federighi explained that Apple’s new system offers users the convenience of the single-sign on options for apps of Google and Facebook’s systems, “but without all the tracking.” For developers, this allows them to use Apple’s API within their app, which will then use the iPhone’s facial recognition system, Face ID.

What’s new, however, and potentially problematic for the marketing industry is its email controls. While most apps that require sign-in will ask for an email address, Apple’s SSO offers the option of hiding your email address. “When you do,” Federighi said, “we’ll create a unique, random address that forwards to your real address.” With this the crowd went wild. “We give each app a unique random address, and this means you can disable any one of them at any time when you’re tired of hearing from that app.” The intention is to return users control over their data.

What’s in it for developers? Not much, other than the continued use of the company’s App Store. As The Next Web notes, in an update to the Store’s Review Guidelines any apps that use other companies’ SSO features will be “required as an option for users” once Sign in with Apple goes live later this year. It is worth noting that developers will still be able to ask for a username and password if they want to continue to receive useful user data.

It’s not at all clear how or if Apple plans to make money from this system, but the development has the potential to hit both Facebook and Google, whose SSO systems help to fuel their ad-tracking businesses. For developers, this offer – as Google says in its featured case studies, SSO has consistently helped developers to increase sign-ons and, thereby increasing conversion opportunities for developers. It’s unlikely that iPhone users, whose data already resides with Apple, will continue to trust Google or Facebook over Apple.
"In terms of the consumer conversation, these latest launches from Apple are extremely significant not only for the growing focus on privacy issues, but also in the way Apple is continuing to position itself at forefront of the conversation, pitched against the likes of Facebook and Google,” said Brian Kane, co-founder and COO of the content compensation platform Sourcepoint in comments to WARC.

"Of course there has been a growing awareness of privacy related issues coming from regulations such as the GDPR and recent data breaches - including those linked to Facebook - but the dollars and effort that Apple is putting into their marketing of this is aggressively bringing the message to consumers. If any organisation can change consumer perception around privacy, it’s Apple.”

Google, meanwhile, has responded with the criticism that Apple’s privacy credentials are only useful to those wealthy enough to afford its products. “For us, that means privacy cannot be a luxury good … Privacy must be equally available to everyone in the world”, wrote Google CEO Sundar Pichai in an op-ed for the New York Times.

The company’s power now lies in its ecosystem: it’s the element of the Apple offer that generates demand across product lines, rather than just a better money-maker. But that power also stems from the company’s presence both in the App Store and as the controller of the App Store. It has attracted criticism from the Democratic presidential candidate and Senator, Elizabeth Warren: “If you run a platform where others come to sell, then you don’t get to sell your own items on the platform because you have two comparative advantages,” she told The Verge.  

More recently, the company is reported to be coming to the attention of the US Department of Justice, as part of a broader review into whether US tech giants are leveraging their size in ways that are anti-competitive.

Sourced from Apple, BBC, TechCrunch, The Next Web, Google for Developers, NYT, Reuters