Screenshot from Apple's WWDC 2019 webcast

Regulators are increasingly policing Big Tech's privacy violations while also investigating the same companies for anticompetitive behavior. Now Apple has thrown them a curve ball: It's leveraging its platform's market power to help users protect their privacy.

Driving the news: The new "Sign In with Apple" service, announced Monday, aims to offer apps and websites a privacy-protecting alternative to using Google or Facebook as a means of authenticating user logins.

  • As Google and Facebook have taken mounting heat for their user-data-driven advertising models, Apple has positioned itself as a privacy-respecting alternative.

The catch: Apple will require iOS app developers that offer Google, Facebook or any third-party authentication to also offer Sign In with Apple.

What they're saying: Apple defends the move as a benefit to both consumers and developers, noting that it's collecting no new data and only mandating the authentication be an option.

  • Apple says its option is also better for developers, allowing them to avoid having to share user data with Facebook and Google.

Yes, but: Critics say that Apple may not be capitalizing on user data today, but its good intentions shouldn't be a justification for insisting its feature be used in order to offer an app on the platform it controls.

  • There's a concern that Apple could change its tune once Sign In with Apple is used in millions of apps.
  • And while that would be a giant shift from today, when Apple CEO Tim Cook insists privacy is a human right, a future executive could change course.

The big picture: Sign In with Apple wasn't the only Apple move this week in support of protecting customer privacy. The company also announced...

  • Plans to limit the types of advertising that can be used in apps that target kids.
  • Changes to MacOS that will reduce access that security software and hardware makers have to the kernel, the operating system's foundational level.
  • An option to allow users to share their location just once with an app, rather than give it extended permission.

The other side: Apple this week also reversed an earlier position that limited choice in the name of protecting users.

  • The company previously barred app developers that make tools to track and limit kids' screen use from using a feature designed for businesses to monitor users' behavior.
  • App makers cried foul, suggesting Apple was limiting competition to its own Screen Time feature.
  • Apple is now letting the competing apps use such technologies to deliver parental controls as long as they don't share the data or use it themselves.

The bottom line: In most cases and for many consumers, Apple's stricter privacy protections will be welcome. But given Apple's total control over what apps iOS will run and what features they offer, it's also important to keep an eye on how Apple wields that power.

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Data: Nielsen; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than 73.1 million people watched the first presidential debate on television on Tuesday night, according to Nielsen ratings.

Why it matters: While that's a sizable audience for any American TV program, it's down more than 13% from the record number of TV viewers who tuned in for the first debate of the 2016 election. The chaotic nature of the debate and the overall uncertainty around this year's election may have pushed some viewers away.

Senate passes bill funding government through December

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation to fund the federal government through Dec. 11, by a vote of 84-10.

Where it stands: The legislation will avert a government shutdown before funding expires Wednesday night and before the Nov. 3 election. The House passed the same measure last week by a vote of 359-57 after House Democrats and the Trump administration agreed on the resolution.

  • Both sides agreed early in negotiations that the bill should be a "clean" continuing resolution — meaning each party would only make small changes to existing funding levels so the measure would pass through both chambers quickly, Axios' Alayna Treene reported last week. The bill now goes to President Trump for his signature.
Bryan Walsh, author of Future
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The age of engineering life begins

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Synthetic biology startups raised some $3 billion through the first half of 2020, up from $1.9 billion for all of 2019, as the field brings the science of engineering to the art of life.

The big picture: Synthetic biologists are gradually learning how to program the code of life the way that computer experts have learned to program machines. If they can succeed — and if the public accepts their work — synthetic biology stands to fundamentally transform how we live.