Apple introduces more privacy controls

Announcements are latest in moves designed to give users greater control over their data.

WWDC: Cook speaking at the event
WWDC: Cook speaking at the event

Apple is introducing greater controls over user data, including an anonymised sign-in ID and restrictions on location tracking – moves that could further limit advertisers’ ability to gather data on its device users.

The iPhone maker, led by chief executive Tim Cook, announced a number of new privacy features for iOS 13 as part of a round of updates unveiled at its annual Worldwide Developer Conference this week.

The most significant privacy update, "Sign in with Apple", offers an alternative for users to sign in to apps and websites rather than using their social logins.

Social login options such as via Facebook and Google have become popular among users as they circumvent the need to create a new identity for each website or app.

However, the trade-off means users giving permission for the social platforms to track and use their app login data for ad-targeting.

Apple’s new feature combines the ease of social logins while protecting a user’s right to privacy. It will offer the option to generate a random email address for users who don’t want to give away their personal email when signing in and this then forwards to the real inbox.

"At Apple, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right and we engineer it into everything we do," Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice-president of software engineering, told WWDC attendees on Monday. "Sign in with Apple" will be available across iOS, Macs and the Apple Watch.

Apple has asked developers to display the new button "prominently" within apps – something that could result in other social login options being demoted and therefore less frequently used.

The moves appear to be predominantly aimed at preventing Facebook and Google from gathering information on Apple users, although adtech providers that rely on third-party tracking data could also be hurt by the changes.

Apple has been cracking down on advertisers’ ability to gather information on its users for some time, as it looks position itself as a company that cares about user privacy.

Since it generates revenue from the sale of devices and services rather than ads like Facebook and Google, Apple can add heavy restrictions without feeling the pain to its bottom line.

At the San Jose event on Monday, Apple also announced plans for additional restrictions on how third parties can track a user’s location on iPhones and iPads.

For the first time, users will be able to provide apps one-time access for location-sharing, while Apple will provide users with a detailed report of how an app collected and used location data if used for longer periods of time.

"Sharing your location with a third-party app can really enable some useful experiences, but we don’t expect to have that privilege used to track us. So, this year, we’re building in even more protections," Federighi said.

Apple is also "shutting the door" on other methods of location-tracking that circumvent user permissions, such as apps that use a user’s Wi-Fi network information, IP address or Bluetooth beacon data to try to pinpoint location.

Earlier this year, Apple introduced a more rigorous version of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention for the Safari browser that eliminates most first-party cookies after seven days and blocks all third-party cookies by default. 

A version of this story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific

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