Apple says allowing sideloading iPhone apps would ‘actually eliminate choice’


App Store
Stick to the App Store, Apple says.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Apple’s none too keen on sideloading, the process of allowing apps to be installed on iPhones and iPads from outside of the App Store. While some critics take issue with this as an example of Cupertino’s uncompromising monopolistic tendencies, Apple — unsurprisingly — has a different take.

In an interview with Fast Company, timed to coincide with publication of a white paper on the subject, Apple’s head of user privacy, Erik Neuenschwander, explains the company’s take.

Spoiler alert: It’s all about security.

“Sideloading in this case is actually eliminating choice,” Neuenschwander told Fast Company’s Michael Grothaus. “Users who want that direct access to applications without any kind of review have sideloading today on other platforms. The iOS platform is the one where users understand that they can’t be tricked or duped into some dark alley or side road where they’re going to end up with a sideloaded app, even if they didn’t intend to.”

Freedom to choose … sort of

Essentially the argument is the same one Apple co-founder Steve Jobs made about pornography and the iPhone years ago. “You know, there’s a porn store for Android,” Jobs wrote one customer. “[Users] can download nothing but porn. You can download porn, your kids can download porn. That’s a place we don’t want to go, so we’re not going to go there.”

In both cases, Apple’s conceptualization of choice is not about offering choice. It’s the decision to offer a curated approach (Apple’s) or a free for all (not Apple’s). You can argue until you’re Bondi blue in the face about whether this makes sense, but it’s Apple’s stance. And the company has certainly been consistent about it.

Grothaus seems convinced by Apple’s version.

“If you’ve ever had friends contact you in a panic, telling you their phone has been hit by malware, you’ll understand just how sound Neuenschwander’s argument is,” he writes. “Without iOS, users wouldn’t have a mobile operating system platform they could choose from that is impossible to be targeted by malicious sideloading. In Apple’s view, in other words: Do you want the best privacy and security possible? Your choice is iOS. Do you want sideloading? Your choice is Android.”

In the interview, Neuenschwander suggests that sideloading is closely linked to malware. However, he doesn’t give specifics about “how much malware is floating around” on Android due to sideloading. The exec simply says malware on iPhone “would be obviously much higher” if Apple embraced sideloading.

U.S. could compel Apple to make changes

Apple, of course, might wind up with no choice. Proposed antitrust regulations could loosen Apple’s control on the App Store. If that happens, Apple may be compelled to allow apps that aren’t sold or distributed through the App Store.

However, as Apple points out in the 16-page white paper titled “Building a Trusted Ecosystem for Millions of Apps” (.pdf) that it published Wednesday, this would represent a change of stance on the part of the U.S. government.

As recently as 2017, the Department of Homeland Security said “best practices identified for mitigating threats from vulnerable apps are relevant to malicious and privacy-invasive apps. Additionally, users should avoid (and enterprises should prohibit on their devices) sideloading of apps and the use of unauthorized app stores.”

What do you think of Apple’s argument? Is sideloading a big deal for you on the App Store? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Source: Fast Company


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