Apple continues pushback on sideloading and third-party app stores

"More harmful apps would reach users because it would be easier forcybercriminals to target them – even if sideloading were limited to third-party app stores only.," the company noted in its report. [ymgerman/Shutterstock]

As international pressure on Apple’s increases over accusations of anti-competitive practices, the tech giant continues to push back against alternative app shops and sideloading in the name of user security.

In a new analysis published on Wednesday, 13 October, Apple reconfirmed its firm opposition to allowing mobile applications downloaded directly from the Internet to be installed on its devices. Downloading apps without going through the integrated application store is known as sideloading.

“More harmful apps would reach users because it would be easier for cybercriminals to target them – even if sideloading were limited to third-party app stores only,” the company said in its report.

Apple stresses that apps are a key entry point for cyber threats. As proof of this, it said that malware is increasingly common and “predominantly present on platforms that allow sideloading.”

To support its thesis, Apple includes several recommendations from expert agencies in its analysis. For example, in 2017 Europol warned that consumers should, “only install apps from official app stores.”

While this is not a new argument, it is one that Apple has taken up a lot lately as lawmakers begin to look at the possible anti-competitive practices.

Manufacturers urged to remove pre-installed apps on new phones

As the EU debates its Digital Markets Act, calls have grown louder for manufacturers to remove all applications pre-installed on new phones in order to combat the oligopoly of “gatekeepers” such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. EURACTIV France reports.

Digital Markets Act

That is particularly the case in Europe, where the Digital Markets Act (DMA) is currently being discussed at Parliament and Council level.

The Commission’s December 2020 proposal on the subject provides for “the installation and effective use of third party software applications or software application stores using.” At the same time, the gatekeeper will “not be prevented from taking proportionate measures” to ensure that such shops or the applications from which they originate do not pose a risk to the device.

The DMA could “destroy the security of the iPhone and a lot of the privacy initiatives we’ve developed in the App Store,” Apple boss Tim Cook warned at the Paris start-up and technology show Vivatech in June.

“Nothing would prevent Apple from imposing certain minimum security conditions” and “establishing specifications” for these alternative shops, Damien Geradin told EURACTIV.

Geradin belongs to the Coalition for App Fairness, an organisation that brings together digital companies and developers to campaign to end the stranglehold they believe Apple and Google have on the app market.

“They talk about security but, on the other hand, let’s not forget that the App Store is a cash cow that generates billions of dollars,” he stressed, pointing out that sideloading is a very uncommon practice in his opinion.

Without doubting Apple’s desire to ensure the security of iPhone users, the economic stakes are high because “gatekeepers” such as Apple and Google receive a significant commission for purchases made within their shop’s applications.

On the regulatory side, things are also moving. At the end of August, South Korea, home to Samsung, became the first major economic power to pass legislation banning Apple and Google from imposing their payment systems for purchasing applications.

Apple’s App Store is also in the sights of the French fraud control agency (DGCCRF).

“Apple’s system is breaking down,” Geradin said, adding that “what is happening is inevitable. We are no longer in a rearguard action phase. Apple has no choice but to resist, if only in relation to its shareholders and investors.”

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As Google and Apple are coming under attack from all sides for the power they wield over app developers, the debate is also raging in France and the European tech, particularly as the EU’s landmark Digital Markets Act approaches.

[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi]

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