Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Tim Cook’s Speech at the International Association of Privacy Professionals Conference 2022

Kif Leswing, CNBC:

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday criticized pending antitrust regulation in the U.S. and Europe, saying that some of the proposed policies would hurt iPhone user privacy and security.

Cook contended in a speech at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit in Washington, D.C., that regulator efforts to force Apple to allow iPhone users the option to install apps from the internet, called sideloading, could lead to a scenario where users can be tricked into installing malware and software that steals user data, citing reports of malicious apps on Android, on which sideloading is currently allowed.

Natasha Lomas, TechCrunch:

But the Apple CEO soon sought to intertwine threats to user privacy — which he’d suggested are countered by giving users more controls to make tracking them harder — with the broader issue of security threats, such as posed by malware like ransomware — going on to argue that security as an overarching bolster for privacy isn’t helped by giving users more control over the choice of third-party software they can download.

On the contrary, Cook argued, giving users a choice to step outside the “rigorous security protections” he suggested Apple has baked into the App Store (via the app review process) — by letting iOS users sideload apps or even choose to use a non-Apple app store entirely — would ultimately reduce their control by removing a “more secure choice.”

“I fear that we could soon lose the ability to provide some of those protections,” he suggested, framing looming competition-focused regulations as a risk to both “our privacy and security.”

Tim Cook:

We are deeply concerned about regulations that would undermine privacy and security in service of some other aim. Here in Washington and elsewhere, policymakers are taking steps — in the name of competition — that would force Apple to let apps onto iPhone that circumvent the App Store through a process called “sideloading”.

One could argue Apple’s resistance to this also serves to preserve its platform control status quo in the name of privacy. I believe Cook is deeply passionate about increasing user privacy and sees the current app distribution policies on iOS and iPadOS as the best balance between users’ interests and those of third parties. But those arguments are somewhat undermined by the financial and competitive benefits Apple reaps when it controls both the platform and its software distribution mechanism.

That is unfair: Apple has valued user privacy long before it even had an App Store or this distribution model. But it sure looks like a conflict of interest now.

Also, kudos to Cook for reminding people of the boring but essential benefits of end-to-end encryption for features like storing HomeKit videos in iCloud. We were reminded just recently how important it is to reduce access to user data — even by service providers. If only that applied to all iCloud data.