Privacy is one of the most pressing issues facing the modern web. Spend any amount of time looking at the news and you’ll see scandal after scandal erupting over mishandled user data. Oftentimes, the controversy emerges over hacks or breaches — where bad actors pilfer information that was carelessly stored. Other times, data misuse is a feature, not a bug, of a major platform. One common thread ties all these issues together, though: companies and corporate entities are storing way too much information about how we live our lives online.
Of all the things Apple covered during its highly anticipated WWDC 2019 conference, few expected it to directly address the issue of privacy. It’s developed a new, secure way to log into platforms and services — without sharing your personal info with these entities at all. This radical shift in thinking casts a long shadow over the rest of Silicon Valley, where companies and platforms like Facebook and Google rely on harvested user data to make massive profits year after year.
In a time where talk of data privacy is taboo for many tech companies, Apple’s bold stance is sure to make serious waves. If a company as big as Apple can force a shift in how data is handled online, could we finally see the major services and platforms of the web take privacy as seriously as we do?
How is Apple changing the way it protects user data?
As part of Apple’s new iOS 13, iPadOS, and macOS systems, the company is rolling out a new data protection feature called “Sign in with Apple.” This option replaces the need for “social logins,” which dominate the lion’s share of commenting platforms, retail spaces, and optimized websites.
If you’ve ever been online and seen a “sign in with Facebook” button, you’ll know exactly how this works. With social logins, apps and services will require you to sign in to access certain functions.
You log in with your social account and your web experience instantly becomes personalized. Meanwhile, your service of choice (usually Facebook or Google) tracks your behaviors and user data — stealthily passing it along to marketing firms, research agencies, and other shadowy organizations with a vested interest in learning what makes consumers tick.
Under Apple’s approach, however, the “Sign in with Apple” feature only uses your Apple ID to let the company know you want to activate the service. When you sign in, a random one-time ID is assigned to your name to prevent the services you sign into from tracking you.
On top of this, the service is enabled with Touch ID or Face ID, which adds an additional layer of separation between you and these services. Thanks to your unique biometric data, only you can access the “Sign in with Apple” service.
Best of all, “Sign in with Apple” can help you create accounts when you sign up for new services. It accomplishes this by generating random email addresses that Apple assigns to your Apple ID, although these services wouldn’t have access to this info.
This is a major win for privacy, since the platforms you sign up for won’t even have access to your real account info — just a randomly generated email account that connects to face or thumbprint data that only you possess.
Am I safe using “Sign in with Apple?”
With Apple’s new system, the only parties exchanging information will be you and Apple. Whether that’s something you’re comfortable with is a personal decision, but based on all available evidence, Apple doesn’t appear to be selling user data for profit like Facebook, for example.
If you are smart with what you post online (or keep on your device, for that matter), you can retain a relatively small pool of data that only goes one way and doesn’t contain anything the company can use to enrich itself.
On top of this, by only connecting your account with Apple, you’re removing the potential of third-parties from accessing your information.
When you use a Facebook social login on another app or website, not only is Facebook able to track you but so is the platform you used your account to log into! By cutting down on the number of entities sharing information, you can better control the flow of your data across the web.
When is “Sign in with Apple” available on my devices?
Currently, Apple plans to have the system ready to go for users this fall when the latest editions of its family of operating systems are released. This update presents one of the biggest changes to the status quo of the modern internet.
Previously, companies would offer platitudes, “privacy tutorials,” and settings for users to change to protect their information. Apple’s extraordinarily public statement about privacy represents one of the biggest names in tech coming out against the way “business as usual” is conducted online.
If the company holds to its word, this new feature could hopefully push other tech companies in a better direction when it comes to data protection. As human beings, we have a right to our privacy. Apple, for now, seems to agree with that sentiment.
Ultimately, protecting our own privacy is up to us consumers. At the very least, “Sign in with Apple” shows that the tide is turning on privacy from the bottom up. Let’s hope it stays that way.