Feds probing Sign In with Apple for antitrust violations — what does it mean for you?

Sign in with apple
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s time-saving Sign In with Apple feature is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice as part of an antitrust probe, according to a report in The Information.

The authentication tool lets users log into websites and apps with one click using their Apple IDs rather than having to type in an email address and password. Apple also touts its system’s “pro-privacy” benefits. But the report claims investigators are looking into whether Sign In with Apple makes it more difficult for iPhone users to switch to another platform.

How did we get here?

The problems stem from Apple’s insistence that any app offering a third-party sign-in option from Google, Facebook or other services also include the Sign In with Apple option. The difference is that while login buttons from the likes of Facebook, Google and LinkedIn give app developers information on users, such as email addresses and profile data, Apple’s version doesn’t.  

This has reportedly led to complaints from some app developers that they risk losing useful information about their customers. According to The Information, two iPhone app developers removed all sign-in buttons from their apps rather than include Apple’s — and subsequently spoke to DOJ investigators last year about the situation. 

The Sign In with Apple button was introduced in June 2019, and Apple initially asked app developers to display it above rival sign-in options from Google, Facebook and others. Those placement-position guidelines were never formal requirements and have since been dropped, but it may indicate Apple’s approach, one that hasn’t always gone down well with developers.

Just last week, Blix, the maker of an email app, refiled a private antitrust lawsuit against Apple and said that the button requirement was unfair and an example of what it called “coercion.”

Blix stated in its case that Apple can use the sign-in button to retaliate against a problematic developer. Last year, when Fortnite maker Epic Games refused to follow Apple’s rules about using the iOS in-app payment system, Epic tweeted that Apple was removing the Sign In with Apple button from the game. It later said that Apple backed down from that threat.

Apple in turn maintains that it created the guidelines to the feature based on feedback from developers, and stated that it doesn’t require any apps to offer third-party sign-ins.

iPhone 12 Pro review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

What does it mean for you?

At present, none of this is likely to affect iOS 14 users. The investigation may not proceed, and even if it does eventually go to court, the ruling might go in Apple’s favor. 

If there were to be a verdict against Apple, it could result in a fine — which, as one of the richest companies in the world, Apple would probably be untroubled by. 

Of course, Apple could also be told that it can no longer demand that developers include the Sign In with Apple feature alongside other third-party logins. This might be good news for some developers, but would arguably give consumers less choice. Not everyone has a Facebook account, or even a Google one — but if you’re using an iPhone 12, you’re certainly going to have an Apple ID.

On the other hand, if the ruling was in Apple’s favor, more app makers could respond by removing all the quick login buttons — which again, would not be good news for the average Joe or Joanne. 

Nobody wants to return to the bad old days of having to input passwords all the time. Still, if that does eventually transpire, you can at least make sure you’re using one of the best password managers

Marc McLaren

Formerly Editor in Chief (U.K.) on Tom’s Guide, Marc oversaw all gaming, streaming, audio, TV, entertainment, how-to and cameras coverage, and was also responsible for the site’s U.K.-focused output. He is now U.K. Editor in Chief on TechRadar. Marc previously edited the tech website Stuff and has tested and written about phones, tablets, wearables, streaming boxes, smart home devices, Bluetooth speakers, headphones, games, TVs, cameras and much more. He also spent years on a music magazine, where his duties mainly involved spoiling other people’s fun, and on a car magazine. An avid photographer, he likes nothing better than taking pictures of very small things (bugs, his daughters) or very big things (distant galaxies). When he gets time, he also enjoys gaming (console and mobile), cycling and attempting to watch as much sport as any human can. He's also fallen in love with Wordle over the past six months and is the author of our today's Wordle answer column, in which he supplies hints and strategy tips for the mega-popular word game. Given he's completed every single Wordle so far and only lost once, and analyzed every Wordle answer in search of patterns, he's well qualified to help you safeguard your streak.