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

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

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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

Cook argued in a speech at the IAPP Privacy Summit in Washington, D.C. that the regulator’s efforts to force Apple to allow iPhone users to install apps from the internet, called sideloading, could lead to a scenario where users may be tricked into installing malware and software that steals user data.

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

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

Cook’s remarks on Tuesday highlight Apple’s strategy to relax sideloading requirements in pending antitrust regulations by focusing on the risks it poses to users.

Sideloading would also “potentially give bad actors a way to circumvent the comprehensive security protections we have in place,” Cook said on Tuesday.

In the United States, the Open Markets Act would force Apple to allow sideloading. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month and is expected to be debated in Congress this year.

In Europe, the EU recently passed the Digital Markets Act, a sweeping set of rules that target big tech companies. Early versions of the DMA included a side-loading requirement, but the legislation is not yet finalized.

Regulators Target App Store Fees

Regulators say forcing Apple to allow apps to be installed via the internet would spur competition and appease app developers who say Apple’s 15-30% fee for App Store purchases is burdensome and excessive. If developers can distribute iPhone apps without Apple’s store, they could charge their users directly and bypass Apple’s fees, some believe.

But Apple argued that sideloading would reduce the value of the iPhone because it reviews all iPhone apps from the App Store through a process called App Review which checks software for scams and malware. Sideloading, Apple says, would open users up to hackers and scammers investing in attacks pretending to be legitimate, working apps.

Android phones allow sideloading, and Cook gave an example of Covid-19 tracing apps on Android that contained ransomware. Apple’s App Store rejected coronavirus-related apps without trusted institutional support as early as March 2020 to avoid a similar issue on iPhone.

“Removing a more secure option will leave users with less choice, not more,” Cook said. “And when companies decide to exit the App Store because they want to mine user data, that could put significant pressure on people to engage with other app stores.”

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

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