Apple Inc. is stepping up its fight to maintain tight controls over which apps can be installed onto customers’ iPhones, as political pressure grows in Washington, D.C. and Brussels to upend those restrictions.
In a report released Wednesday, the company argues that allowing users to download apps directly onto their iPhones without having to use Apple’s App Store would harm customers by threatening privacy protections, complicating parental controls and potentially exposing users’ data to ransomware attacks.
Apple’s defense of its mobile operating system, or iOS, comes ahead of an expected debate Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee on a package of bills aimed at reining in the nation’s largest tech companies.
Provisions in one of the bills, known as the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, could effectively give Apple’s customers broader control over which apps to download on their devices. It could prohibit Apple from continuing to block a practice known as sideloading, in which users install apps directly onto their iPhones without having to go through the company’s App Store. In Europe, the Digital Markets Act was introduced in December and is making its way through the legislative process. It too includes provisions to open the door to sideloading.
Apple isn’t the only tech company taking issue with the House committee’s package of bills. Brian Huseman, Amazon.com Inc.’s vice president of public policy, said in a statement Tuesday that the proposed legislative language “would have significant negative effects on the hundreds of thousands of American small- and medium-sized businesses that sell in our store, and tens of millions of consumers who buy products from Amazon.” He urged the committee to delay action and assess the impact of the bills.
Apple’s report before the committee’s Wednesday meeting follows comments by Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook during a virtual appearance at a Paris tech conference last week, in which he said that sideloading would damage privacy and security.
The Coalition for App Fairness, an advocacy group that includes Epic Games Inc. and Spotify Technology SA, praised the legislation to allow sideloading. The group’s executive director, Meghan DiMuzio, called it “an important step as momentum builds to hold platforms accountable for their anticompetitive behavior.” Epic and Spotify both have battled with Apple over its rules regarding the App Store.
Apple takes a cut of as much as 30% of revenue generated by apps distributed through its digital store and imposes rules on content and other practices. The App Store was a major driver of its $16.9 billion in services revenue generated in the most recent quarter.
“Allowing sideloading would degrade the security of the iOS platform and expose users to serious security risks not only on third-party app stores, but also on the App Store,” Apple said in the report Wednesday. “Because of the large size of the iPhone user base and the sensitive data stored on their phones—photos, location data, health and financial information—allowing sideloading would spur a flood of new investment into attacks on the platform.”
Mr. Cook has made privacy a cornerstone of Apple’s product pitch in recent years, rolling out additional tools to make it harder for other companies to use iPhone users’ data for profit. He has often drawn a contrast between Apple’s business model of mostly selling devices and computers to that of tech rivals who make their fortunes from online ads, such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
Mr. Cook last week said Google’s mobile operating system, Android, was at a greater risk of malware than Apple’s. Android allows sideloading, and Google has defended its security in the past. Google’s most recent transparency report said less than 0.2% of Android devices have installed a malicious app through Google Play.
Apple’s business practices regarding its App Store and third-party software were at the heart of a courtroom drama in May that pitted the company against one of the world’s most popular videogame makers, Epic Games. The antitrust lawsuit filed by Epic aims to allow it to offer its games on Apple devices outside the App Store. Epic has said that Apple improperly controls the distribution of software onto devices it sells and forces developers to use its in-app payment system.
Epic said that the practice of sideloading on iPhones would be no different from what Apple allows on its PCs, where users can easily download software.
Apple pushed back against that argument. The company told the judge that threats against the iPhone are unique because of its nature as a phone and said that its process of vetting apps before distribution helped ensure security. The judge is expected to issue her ruling in the coming weeks.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text
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