Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has some privacy worries. Cook spoke about the significance of privacy in a lecture at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit on Tuesday, but he also issued a warning about pending legislation that could regulate the App Store.
Cook didn’t say much in his remarks. He never mentioned any specific legislation or lawsuits; in fact, he only went into detail about Apple’s privacy initiatives while touting the company. If you’ve been paying attention to what the US and the European Union have been doing to Big Tech, you’ll understand why he’s acting this way.
During his talk, Cook claimed that efforts to regulate and enforce healthy competition in the Apple App Store will have severe impacts on privacy and security.
“…policymakers are taking steps, in the name of competition, that would force Apple to let apps onto iPhone that circumvent the App Store through a process called sideloading,” said Cook.
Apple keeps a tight grip on what’s allowed on its App Store, and has even faced lawsuits and had programs removed for violating the store’s guidelines.
The Digital Markets Act, which was just passed by the European Union, would force Big Tech to open up their messaging services to operate with smaller platforms, using iMessage as an example. The EU is also pushing for third-party app shops, which effectively bypass the App Store and allow users to sideload programs onto iPhones and iPads.
Sideloading, according to Cook, will have far-reaching implications.
He asserted that through sideloading, “data-hungry businesses” will be able to circumvent hardware security and restrictions in order to follow people without their permission. It would introduce weaknesses that did not exist previously, when Apple had complete control over its online store.
Cook later clarified that while the internet giant believes in competition and wants to support it, it does not want to jeopardize consumer privacy.
Apple’s security measures are ongoing
Cook also mentioned Apple’s efforts to protect users’ privacy. He went on to say that the iPhone automatically encrypts personal data and data stored on the iCloud, which is also secured end-to-end. Even Apple isn’t sure what’s in it.
In addition, Apple introduced the ATT (app tracking transparency tool) in 2021, which requires other apps to request permission to collect user data. When it comes to customer privacy, Apple is probably doing more than most digital businesses.
Who’s to say, then, that Apple can’t implement new safeguards while also encouraging a more competitive App Store environment? Furthermore, Apple users aren’t necessarily better protected from criminal actors.
People can be tracked with AirTags, for example. This isn’t malware; it’s a weakness in the design. Granted, Apple is aware of the problem and is working to resolve it through software notifications for the time being.
Cook’s concerns aren’t entirely unfounded, but there’s still no proof that allowing users to sideload, however dangerous, will result in the loss of user privacy.