Apple Touts New Privacy Features Amid Scrutiny of Tech Giants (#GotBitcoin?)
Offerings include anonymous login system, tools to prevent location tracking by apps. Apple Touts New Privacy Features Amid Scrutiny of Tech Giants (#GotBitcoin?)
Apple Inc. sought to tout itself as a digital-privacy crusader with an anonymous login system and tools that prevent apps from tracking a user’s location, a push that is designed to further differentiate it from Google and Facebook Inc., which have built their fortunes on tracking user activity and behavior.
At a gathering Monday of about 6,000 software developers here, the iPhone maker said its mobile operating system coming this fall, iOS 13, will include an Apple sign-in capability that allows people to log into apps without revealing any personal information. It said users would be able to generate automated and random email addresses provided by Apple rather than provide their own.
“It’s a fast, easy way to sign in without all the tracking,” said Apple software chief Craig Federighi onstage at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. He showed the “Sign in with Apple” feature alongside similar offerings from Facebook and Google, which he said could share user information in a way that compromised privacy.
Apple has weaponized privacy over the past year, marketing it to combat threats posed by rivals increasingly elbowing into its core iPhone business.
Last month, Google released a $400 smartphone that it says offers capabilities similar to those of an iPhone at a fraction of the price, and Facebook is working to develop private messaging, payments and e-commerce that could diminish the value of Apple’s iOS.
Apple is also seeking to further separate itself from its peers as the U.S. government ramps up its scrutiny of tech giants’ power. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the government’s antitrust enforcers, the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, are splitting up oversight of tech companies including Google and Facebook over competition concerns. Facebook already faces an FTC investigation over privacy issues.
Amid the skirmishes over privacy, Apple is transitioning from an iPhone-driven company into one powered by a suite of services, such as streaming-music subscriptions, app-store sales and mobile payments. At its developers conference, Apple turned the spotlight back to its other devices beyond the iPhone, introducing new software and services to deepen the appeal of its iPad, smartwatch and Mac businesses. It also bolstered many of its apps, including improvements to Messages that put it in more direct competition with Facebook’s apps.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has stressed privacy by criticizing Google, Facebook and other companies as cavalier in collecting user information. He has cast Apple as pro-privacy, saying it is in the business of selling devices while its peers are in the business of monetizing their customers by gathering data and selling ads.
The company has amplified that message by spending more than $54 million on a TV ad campaign that promotes the privacy offered by iPhones, using the tagline: “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.” The campaign is about half of Apple’s TV ad spending so far this year, according to the ad-tracking company iSpot.tv.
Facebook and Google have pushed back with privacy promises of their own. Facebook this year said it is going to provide encrypted messaging and encourage small-group chats. Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai sniped at Apple in a New York Times editorial that “privacy cannot be a luxury good” available to people who buy expensive devices.
Apple said its newest mobile-operating system will give users more options for how they share location data with apps, including an option to only share location information once.
It also said it is teaming up with security-camera companies to provide more private video tools for people who use cameras to monitor home security.
Though the focus of this event is usually dominated by Apple’s newest iPhone software, the company emphasized improvements to its other gadgets. The iPad is getting its own operating system, iPadOS, with new capabilities that make the tablet more capable of performing like a computer. It will have simple copy-and-paste functions, a desktop mode for its Safari web browser and the ability to plug in a thumb drive.
The Mac is retiring the iTunes app, which made its debut 18 years ago, and splitting its functionality across Apple’s Music, TV and Podcast. The iTunes brand will continue to exist on the iPhone, and users will still be able to download songs through an iTunes Store tab, the company said.
The Apple Watch is getting its own app store, liberating it further from the iPhone where app downloads were previously managed. It also is adding new health capabilities, including the ability to alert users if the environmental noise around them poses a potential problem for their hearing health.
Apple introduced new programming tools for developers that are designed to simplify the process of developing apps for the Mac, watch and iPad. The 2.2 million iPhone apps available in the App Store dwarf the 20,000 Watch apps currently offered. Analysts say that discrepancy limits the utility of the Apple Watch and is part of the reason smartwatch sales have lagged behind the iPhone and iPad.
The company also sought to promote its growing services business, showing the first trailer from one of the company’s new TV shows, “For All Mankind,” a show from Ronald D. Moore about the space race. The show will be available when Apple launches its streaming-video subscription service this fall.
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Apple needs strong sales of those devices and its services to help counter the downturn in its iPhone business. The company in April posted its first back-to-back drop in quarterly sales and profit as sales of the iPhone, which accounts for about two-thirds of total revenue, fell 16% to $83 billion for the first half of the company’s fiscal year.
Although the focus of the conference was on software, Apple introduced a new Mac Pro, its most powerful computer designed for complicated and intense tasks. The computer, which will start at about $6,000, includes a new Intel Xeon processor and system memory of up to 1.5 terabytes. A 32-inch LCD screen with a 6K retina display will cost another $5,000.
New Apple Sign-In Option Could Keep More Personal Data Away From Facebook, Google
Apple Inc.’s plan to allow anonymous sign-ins on mobile apps to protect users’ privacy threatens to choke off data to companies including Facebook and Google that use the information to track users and sell ads based on their habits.
When the iPhone maker releases its new mobile operating system this fall, apps downloaded through Apple’s App Store that offer sign-ups through a third-party social-media account such as Facebook will have another alternative: clicking on an Apple icon to generate a random email address so that users can participate without revealing any personal information.
While the move was broadly seen as positive for consumers cautious about privacy, app developers were less happy. The feature, announced this week at Apple’s annual developers conference, could disrupt the ecosystem that has evolved to support a de facto database of market research on consumers.
Facebook and Google, along with app developers, have long used the information they glean to form more robust profiles of their customers. They’ve used it to tweak apps based on user activity as well as for more targeted, and thus more valuable, advertising sales.
“Apps that are ad supported could see lower revenue because there could be less targeted ads,” said Raj Aggarwal, co-founder of Localytics, a mobile-app analytics company.
Companies can use an email address to find that user somewhere else—from a previous search for something on an app, for example—and build out the user’s profile.
As big technology companies are plagued by privacy concerns and consumers are increasingly aware of their vulnerability, Apple has tried to cast itself as an island of security. In March, Apple released an ad touting the privacy of its iPhone. The tagline was: “If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.”
Apple’s App Store and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Play dominate the marketplace, with more than two million applications for Apple and more than one million for Google. Apple has complete control over stores on its devices, including digital marketplaces, entertainment apps, food-delivery services and many others that use the third-party login system to create accounts; customers on Android-enabled devices aren’t governed by the same rules.
The relationship between app developers and third parties has thrived for years on the convenience of letting users sign in through their respective social-media accounts. App developers would receive either names and email addresses from direct sign-ups, or related info such as gender from Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or other accounts.
Under Facebook’s settings, a user can see what data is being shared with specific apps. On Pinterest , that could include a person’s birthday, names of friends who use the app and “likes” of products or groups. On TripAdvisor , that could include a person’s hometown and current city.
But as tech companies have become embroiled in privacy and regulatory issues, user confidence has waned. Google and Facebook have both had highly publicized scandals with millions of users’ personal data exposed, and both are under regulatory scrutiny because of their market power. The U.S. Justice Department is preparing a new antitrust probe into Google, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, and the Federal Trade Commission could open a similar probe into Facebook.
Apple said it wouldn’t use the new sign-in feature to profile users or their activity, nor would it log or keep a record of sign-in information. The Apple sign-in option won’t be required for apps that lack third-party sign-in services, such as Amazon, Netflix, T-Mobile and others.
A Google spokesman said signing in through its software provides a layer of security the user wouldn’t otherwise have, specifically if hackers are trying to get information from apps. Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
While Apple’s new sign-in will give users more anonymity, it shouldn’t take away apps’ abilities to track overall trends and users’ movement within apps, said Leighton Healey, chief executive at Bootkik, an app that creates “how to” guides.
Apple’s proposed privacy revamp for apps “encourages brands to establish relationships directly to consumers and through trust,” said Gabe Morazan, product director at Evidon, which says it advises companies on user consent in apps. “They’re going to have to find and collect data more directly from the consumer as opposed to using third-party services like Google and Facebook. It lessens the reliance on them.”
Apple, which has pioneered authentication factors like FaceID and has touted file encryption and other safety devices on its iOS devices, added another safeguard this week involving location sharing. Apple users—who can already opt out of continuous location tracking—can now use the new feature to share their location with an app just once to perform a specific task, and can more easily see which apps are still tracking their location when they aren’t in use.