Apple CEO Tim Cook has some privacy concerns. In a speech at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit on Tuesday, Cook spoke about the importance of privacy, but also provided a warning about ongoing legislation that could regulate the App Store.
Cook kept his speech vague. He never brought up any specific legislation or lawsuit; In fact, he only went into detail when promoting Apple’s privacy efforts.
However, if you have paid attention to what the US and EU are doing to the big tech companies, you will understand their position.
During the speech, Cook claimed that efforts to regulate and enforce healthy competition on the Apple App Store would have negative privacy and security implications.
“…policy makers 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.
Apple has a very tight grip on what’s allowed in its App Store, and has handled lawsuits and fired certain apps for violating App Store rules.
The European Union recently passed a Digital Markets Act that will force Big Tech to open their messaging services to work with smaller platforms and points to iMessage as an example. The EU is also putting pressure on third-party app stores, which essentially circumvent the App Store and upload apps to the iPhone and iPad.
Cook stated that sideloading would have serious consequences.
He claimed that by sideloading, “data-hungry companies” would be able to circumvent hardware security and rules to track people without their consent. It would create loopholes that didn’t exist before when Apple had complete control over its online store.
Cook has retracted his position slightly by saying that the tech giant believes in competition and wants to strengthen this environment, but does not want to undermine user privacy.
Apple’s ongoing security efforts
Cook also noted 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 an ATT (Application Tracking Transparency Tool) that forces other apps to ask for permission to track user data. Arguably, Apple does more than most tech companies when it comes to user privacy.
However, who is to say that Apple can’t roll out new protections while promoting a more competitive environment in the App Store at the same time? In addition, Apple users are not inherently better protected from bad elements.
AirTag can be used, for example, to track people. And this isn’t malware, it’s a design flaw. Apple sure knows this and is fixing this bug with its software notifications right now.
Cook’s concerns may not be entirely unwarranted, but there is still no conclusive evidence that giving people the option of sideloading, however risky, would be the end of user privacy.