Apple has always been notoriously against sideloading, but software manager Craig Federighi went further with a dramatic statement at Web Summit 2021. He said that “Sideloading is a cybercriminal’s best friend and requires [it] on iPhone would be a gold rush for the malware industry.
Federighi’s comments join the European Commission’s Digital Markets Act, a bill to allow third parties to work with clients without interference from a platform owner. It also has a some other requirementsThis includes preventing companies like Apple from making certain apps uninstallable and preventing them from prioritizing their own apps and services on their platforms. It’s understandable that Apple cares, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t deceptive.
Federighi compared iPhones to homes and said sideloading is like leaving every door unlocked and open to intruders, while the iPhone’s default settings are like a house with sturdy doors that offer less room for entry. breaking in. He also claimed that it doesn’t matter whether a user chooses to load apps or not, as there are cyber criminals who could get around this by tricking users into accidentally loading malware. He even cited social media companies that were able to evade iPhone privacy protections via sideloading. Finally, he hinted that those who wanted the option of side-loading apps should use competitors like Android.
That’s a lot of unboxing, but here are three reasons why Federighi’s perspective is wrong,
The problem, as has already been noted several times (including by a judge in the case of Apple and Epic) is that Apple itself runs a platform where sideloading is allowed in the form of macOS. The sky has not yet fallen. Granted, we could go Android if they wanted Android features, but Apple did a lot to bring in features its users wanted like widgets, an app drawer, default apps, and even hardware features like screens. 120 Hz.
Federighi’s metaphor here is also a bit offbeat. Sideloading isn’t the same as letting someone leave their house open for everyone to rush in and steal their valuables. This gives the owner the choice of allowing their friends to have a cup of tea or have a house party, whether or not the owner or homeowners association approves. Do these actions involve risk of damage or loss of property? Sure! It is up to the person to manage, not to others to dictate.
Even though Apple is correct that sideloading apps is dangerous, it’s an issue that’s fixed. Granted, it might take a little more extra work, but the “what if a user is trapped in downloaded malware” issue has been addressed by competition from Apple. On Android, Google’s Play Protect scans your phone to protect it from malicious apps. This applies to both the Play Store and side-downloaded apps. If a user loads an app that is considered malicious, Play Protect kicks in and the app is kicked. Microsoft offers something similar with SmartScreen, and Apple, on MacOS, has Gatekeeper.
This brings us to the final concern about the ability of social media platforms to evade privacy protections by simply making their apps side-loadable. To borrow a quote from pop culture, this has always been allowed. Any social media platform could become a progressive web app and opt out of Apple’s App Store at any time. Likewise, nothing has prevented these social networks from adopting the same position on Android, where sideloading already works. If this is a new platform, well, Epic knows all about the hardships of trying to work on Android outside of the Play Store – users just aren’t interested in droves.
As has also been pointed out several times, Apple has a built-in incentive to draw all users through the App Store in a way that doesn’t happen on Macs. Its iPhones are a booming business, and the more people download apps through the App Store and sign up for subscriptions, the bigger the 30% App Store discount Apple can make.
But it’s also not wrong that sideloading comes with risks and users are more prone to malware. The question is whether users want to take on this level of risk and what Apple can do to mitigate that risk while preserving user freedom. This is what the company should be focusing on, rather than trying to fight the inevitable.
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