Apple CEO Tim Cook has privacy concerns. In a speech at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit on Tuesday, Cook spoke about the importance of privacy, but also issued a warning about pending legislation that could regulate the App Store.
Cook kept his speech vague. He never invoked any specific laws or prosecutions; in fact, he only went into detail when promoting Apple’s privacy efforts.
However, if you have paid attention to what the United States and the European Union have done to Big Tech, you will understand its posture.
Side Loading Scares
Cook claimed during his speech that efforts to regulate and enforce healthy competition on Apple’s App Store will have negative effects on privacy and security.
“…policymakers are taking action, in the name of competition, that would force Apple to leave apps on iPhone that bypass the App Store through a process called sideloading,” Cook said.
Apple has a pretty tight grip on what’s allowed on its App Store and has even faced lawsuits and kicked out some apps for violating its App Store rules.
The European Union recently passed the Digital Markets Act that will force Big Tech to open up its messaging services to work with smaller platforms and cites iMessage as an example. The EU is also pushing for third-party app stores, which essentially bypass the App Store and sideload apps on the iPhone and iPad.
Cook said sideloading will have far-reaching consequences.
He claimed that by transferring the data, “data-hungry companies” will be able to circumvent physical security and rules to track people without their consent. This would create vulnerabilities that did not previously exist when Apple had full control of its online store.
Cook backtracked a bit, saying the tech giant believes in competition and wants to foster that environment, but doesn’t want to infringe on user privacy.
Apple’s ongoing security efforts
Cook also highlighted Apple’s efforts to ensure user privacy. He specifically mentioned that iPhone automatically encrypts personal data and data stored on iCloud, which is also end-to-end encrypted. Even Apple doesn’t know what’s inside.
And in 2021, Apple added the ATT (App Tracking Transparency Tool) which forces other apps to ask for permission to track user data. Apple arguably does more than most tech companies when it comes to user privacy.
However, who’s to say that Apple can’t roll out new protections while fostering a more competitive environment in the App Store at the same time? Moreover, Apple users are not inherently better protected against bad actors.
AirTags, for example, can be used to track people. And it’s not malware, it’s a design flaw. Certainly, Apple is aware of this and is working to correct this flaw via, for the moment, software notifications.
Cook’s concerns may not be entirely unwarranted, but there’s still no hard evidence that giving people the option to sideload, however risky, will be the end of user privacy.