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Apple announces new sign-in tool to compete with Facebook and Google

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A direct shot at Google and Facebook

Today at WWDC, Apple introduced a new single sign-on (or SSO) tool called “Sign In with Apple,” designed to authenticate users to apps while sharing a minimum of personal data with third parties. It’s a direct competitor to simpler services offered by Facebook and Google, which were called out by name on stage, and part of Apple’s broader effort to brand itself as a privacy-conscious alternative to those companies. The new system will be available across apps as well as on the web.

As described onstage by Apple software chief Craig Federighi, users would encounter the service as a simple sign-in button, presented as an alternative to setting up a persistent username and password for a given service. But where Google and Facebook use those buttons to link you to your broader advertising profile, Apple’s service is designed to give the minimum necessary data.

The system won’t even share your email, instead directing each app to a different redirect email address operated by Apple. With a different redirect for each app, it would be far more difficult for third parties to correlate information by comparing emails. And when a user wants to cut ties with an app, breaking the redirect will sever the connection entirely.

It’s unclear how or if Apple plans to make money from the system. But simply presenting a new sign-on tool could present serious problems for Google and Facebook, which have often used SSO systems to bundle their own code and API calls into outside apps, gaining a wealth of ad-tracking data in the process. For anyone switching over, that data will largely rest with Apple, which will oversee the tool — but executives are betting you trust Apple with the data more than ad-funded companies like Google and Facebook.

It’s part of a broader push toward services from Apple, which came to a head at the Show Time event in March. That event saw new subscription services offered for TV, games and news, as well as the Apple Card in finance, a notable shift from the company’s traditional focus on hardware. In many of those cases, Apple has attempted to position itself as a “privacy provider,” a trustworthy alternative to its scandal-plagued competitors.