Apple vs The Senate? The United States Senate is in the process of creating and proposing new legislation intended to ‘foster competition’ and prevent tech giants from abusing their market power. The proposed laws are the Open Markets Act and the American Innovation and Choice Online Act. The reason these proposed laws are notable is that they could potentially force Apple to allow sideloading on iOS.

Sideloading is the process of installing applications from third party sources. In other words, consumers could choose to install Apps from third party App Stores and developers could choose to distribute their apps outside of the official iOS App Store. This would achieve the objectives to some degree of the proposed legislation. But Apple argues that the laws are a double-edged sword.

If sideloading is implemented on the iPhone, it will essentially create a fragmented App distribution model. And unfortunately, this will come with undesirable consequences. For example:

  • Apple won’t be able to require developers to follow strict privacy guidelines or implement privacy features such as App Tracking Transparency. This will make it easier for rogue developers to access personal data by removing the customer’s ability to act as a data controller
  • All Apps that go through the App Store (including App updates) are screened and vetted by Apple for malware to ensure they work as intended. That will no longer be possible if Apps are distributed across numerous stores. The App Store isn’t perfect of course, no system is. But the alternative will be an unknown magnitude worse. Probably significantly worse given that 98% of malware on mobile devices is found only on Android at present
  • It will take away the choice for consumers to pick a fully curated and vetted platform. At the moment if consumers prefer a platform with multiple App distribution methods, Android is available as a significant and dominant competitor with many vendors offering a wide variety of entirely unique smartphone experiences
  • Even if a consumer can opt-out of sideloading, employers, educators and perhaps government bodies may choose to only distribute their App on a third party store. Essentially forcing customers to enable sideloading if they can’t find a mandatory App they need on the first party store

In a letter to the Senate from Apple’s Senior Director of Government Affairs, Timothy Powderly, the tech giant outlines its position:

These bills will reward those who have been irresponsible with users’ data and empower bad actors who would target consumers with malware, ransomware, and scams. The bills put consumers in harm’s way because of the real risk of privacy and security breaches. In addition to making privacy and security protections nearly impossible to defend, the bills would actually allow predators and scammers to side-step Apple’s privacy and security protections completely. This circumvention is possible because the bills would mandate “sideloading,” or the direct installation of software from the internet in a way that circumvents the privacy and security protections Apple has designed, including human review of every app and every app update.

Apple, Via MacRumors

There are of course some positive arguments for sideloading. Perhaps lower prices for Apps if commissions are no longer split for instance (though I highly doubt most developers will pass on the savings). But on balance, the AppleTLDR position is firmly against sideloading. Alternative payment models is an entirely different subject of course but that’s a debate for another day.


Featured image: Luke Michael via Unsplash

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