Apple Touts New Privacy Moves as Antitrust Probes Loom for Big Tech

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Both the House leadership and the Trump administration are preparing to challenge the power of Google, Facebook, and other big tech companies by launching antitrust investigations into their allegedly anticompetitive business practices, as the Washington Post detailed it this week.

But the growing concern about the pervasive control of tech giants in arenas such as social media, advertising, and e-commerce stemmed first from revelations about consumers’ lack of meaningful control over the privacy of their personal data. That awareness began with probes of arguably manipulative campaign messages that, during the 2016 presidential election, targeted millions of users whose profiles Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) had shared with outside organizations.

Since then, the privacy practices of other tech companies have also been scrutinized, as well as the fact that users have few alternatives if they find those practices invasive. In response, leaders at companies including Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) have proclaimed themselves champions of privacy, and taken some steps to safeguard it.

Apple may have taken its most significant step yet this week, announcing at its annual WWDC2019 developer conference that it has created a way for consumers to interact with mobile apps and websites while withholding some of their personal details.

Continuing its drive to brand itself as a guardian of consumer privacy, Apple announced a new “Sign In with Apple’’ feature in its upcoming mobile operating system upgrade, iOS 13, which will allow users to use their Apple IDs when creating accounts with outside apps. Apple will send the app a random ID to shield the user’s Apple identification and name. But users can continue to use their Apple IDs to log in to the app.

Consumers can also mask their true email addresses from the app operator. In that case, Apple will send the app a randomly generated substitute address that the app can use to communicate with the consumer. Apple then forwards the app’s messages to the consumer’s real email address.

By creating an anonymizing layer between the user and the app, Apple may be able to curb some of the mechanisms used by app operators to track the online activity of consumers and build out profiles of them that can be offered to advertisers, or sold to data brokers for ads and other purposes.

Both Facebook and Google already offer these convenient single sign-on features, based on their own users’ IDs. But Apple is trying to distinguish itself from those competitors by stating that it does not make use of its ubiquitous involvement in its users’ online movements as they sign in to apps.

“Apple does not use Sign In with Apple to profile users or their activity in apps,’’ the company says in a press release about the new feature.

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