14 July 2020

Charged: “Apple wants to kill the ad industry. It’s forcing developers to help”

Apple sign-in is the ultimate lock-in, along with everything else new we’ve seen this year, from an iPhone-only credit-card, to a plethora of exclusive subscription services, only available on Apple’s own hardware. Apple sign-in seals that deal, binding users to Apple’s hardware for the long haul, making it tedious to log in to services on any other device (there is support for web logins, but it’s poorly documented and notably omits the “seamless login” line shown on every other page).

All of the largest tech companies have switched gears to this model, including Google, and now sell a narrative that nobody can be trusted with your data–but it’s fine to give it all to them, instead.

There’s bitter irony in Apple denouncing other companies’ collection of data with a sign-in service, then launching its own, asking that you give that data to them, instead. I definitely trust Apple to act with my interests at heart today, but what about tomorrow, when the bottom falls out of iPhone sales, and the math changes?

I’m not arguing that any of these advertising practices are right or wrong, but rather that such a hamfisted approach isn’t all that it seems. The ad industry gets a bad rap–and does need to improve–but allowing a company that has a vested interest in crippling it to dictate the rules by forcing developers to implement their technology is wrong.

Owen Williams

Another story from last year I have been meaning to comment on; I have been reminded of it by a recent blog post explaining why AnyList won’t supportSign In with Apple’. Launched last year, the feature became mandatory for App Store apps starting June 30th – in typical Apple fashion, not only is it mandatory for iOS apps offering third party login services, it should be placed above rival buttons from Google and Facebook. Another piece of the puzzle in the ongoing rivalry between Apple and Google around online advertising and the direction of the web, and continues an established trend of Apple limiting web tracking in favor of in-app activity under the pretense of improved privacy for users.

In addition to these customer experience problems that are common to all third-party login systems, Sign in with Apple introduces several more that are unique to it.

One problem is that most Apple IDs are tied to an iCloud email address. So most accounts created via Sign in with Apple will use an iCloud email address. But many of those iCloud email addresses are unused and unchecked, because a customer’s “real” email account is their Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail account. If we try to contact a customer using their iCloud email address, they may never see our message. We used to run into this problem constantly with customer support, back when AnyList used the built-in iOS email compose interface for sending support requests. This interface often defaults to using an iCloud email account. So people would ask for help, we’d reply, and they’d contact us again later, angry that we never replied. Our reply was going to their iCloud email account, but they didn’t see it because they only ever looked at their Gmail account, in the Gmail app.

Jeff Hunter

In addition to the ecosystem lock-in concerns, the blog post from AnyList describes many problems with Apple’s system, some resulting directly from its ‘privacy’ aspects, others from being designed specifically for Apple devices. It sounds like an overall worse experience for both customers and developers, which kind of defeats the purpose of the feature: if few apps implement it, the privacy benefit is moot.

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