A recent report from Business Insider outlines how Apple is attempting to battle Facebook and Google by focusing on user privacy — but this could create problems for many developers.
In a recent piece titled “Apple is taking on Facebook and Google by doubling down on privacy, but the plan could backfire in an epic way,” Business Insider examines how tech giant Apple has made user privacy a focus point for the company. In many ways this is a solid business move, helping Apple stand out amongst competitors such as Google and Facebook which have both been plagued with privacy scandals in recent years. But many are worrying that Apple’s focus on privacy is negatively affecting developers.
Business Insider writes:
“We believe privacy is a fundamental human right,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, proclaimed on stage. He was showing off a new app login feature designed specifically to limit Facebook and Google from tracking iPhone users’ movements across their various apps.
At the very moment that Apple was preaching to its audience, a Reuters report crossed the wires with the latest developments in the federal government’s effort to stiffen regulation of powerful “Big Tech” companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google…and Apple.
The timing was purely coincidental, but it highlighted a development that’s likely to blunt Apple’s weapon of choice against its rivals, and, if Apple isn’t careful, could backfire on Apple itself. By limiting access to user data, Apple risks irritating not only Google and Facebook, but many of the thousands of smaller developers who build apps for its devices. The move could also unintentionally create the perception that Apple is thwarting competition and needs to be reined in.
Apple recently announced a number of new privacy-focused features for users, including new iOS privacy settings, a feature that will block apps from routing around privacy limitations, and a new “login with Apple” feature designed to compete with the similar Facebook and Google login options while focusing on user privacy. But Business Insider notes that many developers may not be happy with all of these features:
Allowing consumers to limit location tracking or tracking across apps may in turn curtail the advertising revenue such ads generate. That could lead some developers to abandon iOS or to charge for their apps and services rather than offering them as ad-supported ones. And fewer apps overall or fewer ad-supported ones could make the iPhone less attractive to end users.
But Apple’s announcements run other risks for the company. The Cycle Tracking app takes aim at a whole class of applications that have cropped up to allow users to track their menstrual cycles. The move represents only the latest time that the company has launched a service that offers a function that many users previously got from a third-party app. As in past cases, Apple’s app will get preferential treatment in iOS; unlike rival period trackers, Apple’s will be built right into its Health app on the iPhone.
Business Insider notes that despite Apple’s focus on privacy, it hasn’t exempted the company from new antitrust investigations by the DOJ and FTC, and some of Apple’s new features could possibly land them in hot water:
But Apple could face the biggest problem with its new sign-on service. It reportedly will require any app that offers a third-party login feature to offer Apple’s sign-on service as well.
That requirement seems like a prime example of what’s called tying, which is where a company in a dominant position requires partners who want to use one service or feature to use another one as well. The tying of its Internet Explorer browser to Windows is what got Microsoft in trouble with antitrust authorities 20 years ago. The tying of the Google search and other apps to Google Play and Android is what got Google in trouble with the European Union more recently and led to a $5 billion fine.
News of that requirement came on the same day as reports that US antitrust authorities are starting to look at Apple. The company may well regret that timing.