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'Sign in With Apple' target of Justice Department antitrust probe

Credit: Apple

The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly probing Apple's "Sign in With Apple" feature as part of a broader antitrust investigation, following complaints from developers.

Specifically, antitrust investigators are looking into whether the "Sign in With Apple" button and other App Store policies "make it difficult for users to switch to a rival device maker," The Information reported Tuesday.

Apple introduced the "Sign in with Apple" feature as a privacy-respecting option in iOS 13, allowing users to create an account on an app without sharing their email address with developers. Apple also started requiring apps that have account sign in options from Google, Facebook, and Twitter to include "Sign in with Apple" as well. The only exceptions are apps that exclusively use third-party accounts for authentication.

Reportedly, that requirement has made some App Store developers unhappy. Complaints filed by developers in 2020 are now under investigation by antitrust regulators, sources told The Information.

Representatives from two iPhone apps said they removed all sign in buttons "because want to include Apple's and potentially lose out on gaining information about their customers." Those developers called Apple's sign-in option a way to cut apps off from their users and claimed it was a method to entrench its own control over the App Store.

When it first debuted the button, Apple also asked developers to display it above other sign in options. It has since changed its policy on that.

At least one developer has also publicly complained about the Sign in With Apple feature. Back in 2019, Blix filed a complaint claiming that the requirement was unfair and likened it to "coercion." It also said that the button could be used as a weapon against developers in other disputes.

The probe appears to be broader than "Sign In with Apple," however. The body is examining Apple's control over its app marketplace, the commission it charges on app and in-app purchases, and whether it restricts third-party app access to systems like Location Services that its own apps are able to use.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment to The Information, but said that Sign in With Apple was meant to give its users a privacy-focused alternative to account authentication options offered by other companies.

The Department of Justice has not yet decided whether to bring a case against Apple. Sources say that decision could take months.

Apple first came under investigation by the Department of Justice in June 2020, following antitrust complaints from developers.

In addition to the scrutiny of Apple, the DOJ has also filed a lawsuit against Google for its search business. Facebook is also facing antitrust lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.