Apple CEO Tim Cook says some new policies will harm iPhone security

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday criticized pending antitrust regulation in the United States and Europe, saying some proposed policies would harm iPhone user privacy and security.

In a speech at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit in Washington, DC, Cook emphasized that the regulator’s efforts to force Apple to allow iPhone users the option to install apps from the Internet, called sideloading, could lead to a scenario in which users could be tricked into installing. Malware and software that steal user data, citing reports of malicious apps on Android, which sideloading is currently allowed.

Apple currently only allows users to install iPhone software from the company’s App Store, which scans every app and update.

“Here in Washington and elsewhere, policymakers are taking steps in the name of competition that would force Apple to allow apps on the iPhone that circumvent the App Store through a process called sideloading,” Cook said. “This means that data-hungry companies will be able to sidestep our privacy rules, and once again track our users against their will.”

Cook’s comments on Tuesday highlighted Apple’s strategy to ease sideloading requirements in pending antitrust regulations by focusing on the risks they pose to users.

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the 2019 Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco on November 19, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Cook said on Tuesday that sideloading “potentially gives bad actors a way to get around the comprehensive security safeguards we’ve put in place.”

In the US, Apple’s Open Application Markets Act requires sideloading to be allowed. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, and is expected to be debated again in Congress this year.

In Europe, the European Union recently approved the Digital Markets Act, a comprehensive set of rules targeting big tech companies. Early versions of DMA included a side loading requirement, but the legislation has not yet been finalized.

Regulators target app store fees

Regulators say forcing Apple to allow apps to be installed online would lead to competition and appease app developers who say Apple’s 15% to 30% fee for App Store purchases is onerous and excessive. If developers can distribute iPhone apps without the Apple Store, then they can bill their users directly and bypass Apple fees, some believe.

But Apple confirmed that sideloading would devalue the iPhone because it scans all iPhone apps in the App Store through a process called App Review that checks software for scams and malware. Apple argues that sideloading will open users up to hackers and scammers who may invest in attacks that pretend to be legitimate and workable apps.

Android phones allow sideloading, and Cook gave an example of Covid-19 tracking apps on Android that contained ransomware. The Apple App Store rejected coronavirus-related apps without a trusted institutional backer as early as March 2020 in order to prevent a similar issue on the iPhone.

“Removing a safer option will leave users with fewer options, not more,” Cook said. “And when companies decide to leave the App Store because they want to exploit user data, it can put a lot of pressure on people to interact with alternative app stores.”

Cook’s speech isn’t the first time Apple has made a security argument against App Store regulation. In a letter to lawmakers earlier this year, an Apple official said that sideloading could cause millions of Americans to suffer malware attacks on their phones.

Correction: The Open Application Markets Act was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February. An earlier version missed the month.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.