With rivals like Facebook and Google touting newfound focus on privacy at their big annual events, Apple today reminded us of its long-standing commitment to keeping its users’ data private — and publicly called out its competitors. A slew of new features across Apple products offer privacy-minded alternatives to popular services like Facebook sign-in and Google Maps.
“Sign In With Apple ID” is a new feature enabling users to log into apps with randomly generated email addresses, instead of with their Facebook and Google accounts. “It’s a fast, easy way to sign in, without all the tracking,” said Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering. In a slide, Apple showed a sampling of the data Facebook and Google hand over to third-party apps, such as one’s full name, age, gender, social media likes, and more.
Apple is also giving users more control over location data, and limiting apps that can use wireless signals to gather location data. Facebook, for example, captures “nearby Wi-Fi access points, beacons, and cell towers,” to infer precise location data. Federighi said Apple is “shutting the door on that abuse” to prevent apps from using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to estimate your location. On iOS, users can also now grant location data access to third-party apps just once, and force apps to request access every time they need location information. Your iPhone will generate a report on app tracking activity too.
On top of all that, Apple debuted a new feature called “Sign In” that allows you to register for non-Apple services without revealing any personal data by generating randomized, throwaway email addresses.
Presenters at today’s keynote didn’t shy away from addressing recent privacy claims by Apple’s services rivals. “Maps has been designed to be private and secure. There’s no need to flip a switch to ask Apple to start respecting your privacy,” said Federighi, referring to Google Maps’ recently announced incognito mode.
Privacy scandals have rocked Facebook, Google, and Amazon in the past year — and Apple is using the moment to distinguish itself as a company that makes money primarily through hardware sales, rather than targeted advertising based on its users’ data, unlike its competitors. In January, the company plastered “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone” in giant text above Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show. In a January 2019 op-ed, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote, “Consumers shouldn’t have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives.”
Recently, Facebook and Google have been pushing back on the narrative. At its recent developer’s conferences, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed that “The future is private,” while Google CEO Sundar Pichai said, “Our work on privacy is never done.” Pichai also recently published an op-ed in the New York Times, titled “Privacy Should Not Be a Luxury Good.” While the piece didn’t mention Apple by name, it appeared to be aimed at the iPhone maker, whose smartphones range from $750 to $1100.