Apple’s Federighi speaks out against sideloading apps in single note speech


Apple’s head of software engineering Craig Federighi took his time on stage at the 2021 Web Summit conference to air a long list of grievances against the proposed requirements for downloading apps to iPhones, describing the practice like “the gold rush for the malware industry”.

It is a topic of discussion, not only because there is a heated debate on the subject (although there is), but because the EU’s Digital Markets Law, if put implementation as currently presented, could impose a method of setting up apps on iPhones that circumvents Apple’s long-standing app. Storage and review process.

CEO Tim Cook already made the company’s stance known (tough against it, of course) in June, when he said the rule could “destroy iPhone security.” So it’s no big surprise that Federighi is supporting the boss, but devoting pretty much a full speech on stage to a series of arguably misleading and totally unchallenged claims gives the viewer slight hints of desperation.

Apple’s approach of manually reviewing each app and update has its own issues, but in an effort to prevent malware, it’s a pretty good solution – it’s absolutely right. But it’s one thing to say your method is better, it’s quite another to say other methods should never, ever be allowed.

“There is a clear consensus here, and that is that sideloading undermines security and puts people’s data at risk,” he said. This may be true, but it is not the only consensus. There is also some consensus among developers and users – to say nothing of antitrust authorities – that Apple has exerted a grip on the iOS app market which has long become more of a hindrance than an asset for the world market.

“Our mission is to provide people with a choice of what we consider to be the best,” said Federighi, shortly before launching into a tirade against certain choices. In his view, giving users the choice to download apps “would take away consumers from choosing a more secure platform.”

More choice is less choice, I understood that! He then pounced on a rather laborious metaphor that he hoped would resonate with the owners in the crowd. Let’s just quote it all here:

You made a choice. You wanted to protect your family, so you bought a really safe house with a really good security system. And you are really glad you did. Because since you moved in, burglars have never been so creative or so numerous. And in the real world of cybersecurity, that couldn’t be truer. Attackers practically disguise themselves as letter carriers who build underground tunnels and try to scale your backyard walls with grappling hooks. In this world, some of your neighbors are repeatedly broken into, but the house you have has kept you safe.

But then this new law is passed. And in the noble quest for more optimized parcel delivery, your city requires everyone to build an always-unlocked side door on the ground floor of their house. Now some of your neighbors are loving this idea. But you are not so sure because you know that once a side door is built anyone can walk through it. Your chosen safe house now has a fatal flaw in its security system, and burglars are really good at exploiting it. In a nutshell, sideloading is that unlocked side door and requiring it on iPhone would give cybercriminals an easy entry point into your device. Now we think no one wants that, let alone the decision makers who intend to give users more choices and more protections.

Instead of creating a choice, this would open up a Pandora’s Box of unexamined malware and deny everyone the option of a secure iPhone approach.

This imagery, as vivid as it is, is somewhat below reality. The choice to have and use this door will largely be up to the users, and Apple has the responsibility and the ability to explain very clearly the risks of that choice. Google hasn’t been successful in some ways, Federighi pointed out, but it looks like something Apple could just improve on. Most people won’t need or want to download apps, and even if they do, the idea isn’t to create a Wild West – which most computers have been for a long time – but to create space in the market. for competition.

If we go back to our “favorite house” as he called it, it should be noted that Federighi failed to mention that this large secure front door has a special apple-shaped hole through which only Apple-branded packages. can be delivered. It’s not just about making another hole in the house, it’s about having literally any alternative to a system – an effective system, but a relic from another age – that has been the only option for a decade and made the already wealthy business work. it is one of the richest in history.

There was quite a bit of fear and FUD to accompany the half-truths that Federighi was peddling on stage. Maybe not the inspirational talk the public expected from someone so influential in tech.

They may only delay the inevitable, but it’s clear Apple will fight tooth and nail for the consumer’s right to choose what Apple has already chosen for them.

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