Apple’s Precedent

Jon Bell
Jon Bell
Jun 5 · 3 min read

Apple announced a feature called “Sign in with Apple,” which is a way to log into apps without all the tracking that Facebook and Google do. Like many things Apple does, there are some big feelings. I wanted to jot down a few historical precedents that this reminds me of.

Pop-up blocking by default
In 2003, most websites you went to would throw up a bunch of pop-up ads and their evil cousins called “pop-unders.” Apple announced their new browser, called Safari 1.0, and it blocked these ads by default.

The industry was aghast. People talked about anti-competitive behaviour and abusing their power. People were still allowed to use other browsers, and besides, Safari had no market share. In the end, it hurt advertisers and was a better experience for customers.

No Flash on the iPhone
In 2007, Flash was very popular across the internet. Apple announced that their new device, called an iPhone, wouldn’t support Flash because of security issues, battery concerns, and the fact that Flash isn’t designed for touch screens and wouldn’t reliably work.

The industry was aghast. People talked about anti-competitive behaviour and abusing their power. People were still allowed to buy smartphones that supported Flash, and besides, iPhone had low market share. In the end, it hurt Flash content makers and was a better experience for customers.

A Curated iOS App Store
In 2008, it was assumed that any app could be installed on any device. Apple decided that nothing would go on their iPhone product without someone at Apple personally reviewing the code for privacy, security, and other violations. (Everything from products inciting violence to porn to fart apps were banned.)

The industry was aghast. People talked about anti-competitive behaviour and abusing their power. People were still allowed to buy Android, and did in much greater numbers than iOS. In the end, it hurt shady app makers and was a better experience for customers.

Sandboxed macOS and a Curated Mac App Store
Personal computing has been mainstream for nearly 40 years, and there’s always been an assumption that any app should be allowed on any computer. Apple decided they were going to make it difficult to install any app that didn’t come through the official Mac App Store.

The industry was aghast. People talked about anti-competitive behaviour and abusing their power. People were still allowed to buy Windows, and did in much greater numbers than macOS. In the end, it hurt shady app makers, virus writers, and was a better experience for most (not all) customers.

Safari content blocking
In 2015, there was an assumption that if a website wanted to show you a ton of ads (or tracking software), you’d just have to accept that as part of the cost of being on the web. Apple decided to allow users to block different kinds of content themselves or by installing apps that hooked into a framework.

The industry was aghast. People talked about anti-competitive behaviour and abusing their power. People were still allowed to use Chrome and Android, and did in much greater numbers than Safari and iOS. In the end, it hurt advertisers and was a better experience for customers.

Sign in with Apple
Now we’re in 2019 and there’s an assumption that convenient log in with Facebook or Google requires that your activity be aggressively tracked by a whole constellation of companies across the internet that make money by packaging up your data and selling it. Apple disagrees, and is requiring any app on the App Store provide their new non-surveillance login option alongside the user-hostile Facebook and Google ones.

I don’t think Apple’s losing sleep over what will happen next.

Jon Bell

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Jon Bell

I love building things.