How many times have you gone through this scenario on your Mac or iPhone: you install a new app, and the first thing it asks you is to sign up to its service.
Or, if the app uses CloudKit, you can skip the registration part, but it still asks you for your name, e-mail address and a photo.

Each time you type in your name, enter your e-mail address, select the photo placeholder, allow the app access all your photos, scroll through your favorites to pick an avatar, set a password and click done.
Sounds familiar?

There are a few problems with this:

  • These are way to much work for what should be a few simple steps.
  • Why do you need to give an app access to all your photos for just one avatar?
  • I have to do this every time for every app and service.
  • My iPhone already knows who I am.

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Some Solutions

There are ways to shorten this process. You can choose to login via Twitter, Facebook, or Google. But what you win in convenience, you lose in privacy. Where an app used to be a separate service, it’s now connected to those big networks, with all the possible tracking and privacy implications active.

On OS X Apple has solved this issue for their own platform. When you setup a new Mac, they ask you for your Apple ID. They then ask you to create an admin account, but they prefill the username field with your first and last name. It’s easy and convenient.
They even create a contact card (if it doesn’t exist yet) with your information which is then used for autofill in Safari.

When looking at iOS, things are similar at first: there’s also a reference to your Contact card in Settings (buried deeply in the contacts section) and your phone number appears in the Phone app, and Safari Autofill knows who you are.

But when you first launch the Health app, Apple asks you for a photo. Even when there’s one in your Contact card. They offer a field to fill in your birthday, even when you already set one when you created your Apple ID. They asks you to select emergency people and they even allow you to tag them with partner, mother, father. For years now contact cards have the option to show or add related contacts. If they parse my vcard in the address book they know this stuff.

It’s a lot of manual work for stuff they already know, and iOS could suggest this info for you.

Identity

Ignorance by Design – Federico Viticci

Apple prioritises user privacy above anything else. They don’t want to know about you. But Apple is also about convenience. Combine these two and I think you can have a very powerful combination:

What if, instead of all this manual stuff, Apple adds an Identity section to the iOS privacy settings. It’s a system level contact card that you can prepopulate with general information about you. This system-level identity contains your name, photo, e-mail, phone number,…

When you install an app that needs your information, it can ask the system for your Identity.
iOS shows a modal popup similar to what HealthKit shows. It allows you to pick what the app can see (if not all of it), press done and the app or platform is configured with your data without the need of typing it all in, giving the app access to photos, etc.
It makes entering your personal data very fast, but it doesn’t expose unnecessary resources like your photo library to external services.

Next you could imagine Apple filling in a password too, so that’s automatically stored in iCloud Keychain. When you later launch the app on a second device, they can use the build-in Keychain API’s to log you in automatically.

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Conclusion

I wrote this because I was frustrated with yet another app that asked me for access to all my photos just to add a profile picture to my account. But while thinking about this I started thinking about how identity exists on Apple’s platform.

Presenting a modal dialog with your personal information is not a guarantee that the platform that asks your data will handle your information in a secure and moral way. But clicking ‘Login with Facebook’ isn’t either. When users need to chose between convenience and privacy, they pick the former.

Privacy is a tough question. And an integrated identity in iOS or OS X doesn’t improve your privacy. It only allows for a faster and more convenient way to create an account in services.