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What’s sideloading and why Apple is lobbying against it

apple app store sideloading story

Apple is throwing its weight against the potential enforcement of sideloading as an option for all users of its products. But what exactly is sideloading?

In essence, sideloading refers to the downloading of any applications to your device from a source other than Apple’s App Store.

If your first thought is that this creates a sort of monopoly for Apple then you are far from alone.

In the United States, the House Judiciary Committee and its Antitrust Subcommittee on Wednesday held a markup hearing which aimed to reshape and push forward six antitrust bills which aim to restrain the largest technology companies in the country.

In response, Apple has since published an open letter addressed to the members of the committees which tries to explain why the potential removal of Apple’s ability to be the sole regulator and overseeing authority of applications published and downloaded on Apple products will have negative consequences for consumers.

“We are concerned that many provisions of the recent package of antitrust reform legislation would create a race to the bottom for security and privacy, while also undermining innovation and competition,” Apple said in the letter.

This is directly related to Apple’s ongoing legal dispute with Epic Games, where the latter is claiming that Apple’s practices are unfair towards developers.

“Framed Epic’s way, Apple and its app store are a monopoly that is abusing control over the mobile software market to extract commissions for payments made inside apps,” Reuters reported in May.

Apple disputes this claim, saying that it is but one of many entities in the video game market, adding that the sector enjoys healthy competition.

In a document titled A Day in the Life of Your Data, Apple explains in detail why it is beneficial to the consumer for them to retain supreme authority over the applications that one can download on one of their devices.

Their arguments include enhanced privacy and data security for the user, adding that privacy is a fundamental human right.

“That principle guides the high privacy standards we build into our products: we collect only the personal data strictly necessary to deliver a product or service, we put the user in control by asking them for permission before apps can access sensitive data, and we provide clear indications when apps access certain sensitive features like the microphone, camera, and the user’s location,” Apple said.

Apple adds a number of reasons sideloading can be detrimental to the user, including a list of examples of real-world attacks on platforms that permit the use of sideloading.

“Sideloaded apps on Android have been known to carry out “locker” ransomware attacks. These malicious apps, if installed, lock users out of their phone or target their photos, unless they agree to pay a ransom,” Apple explains.

“A recent ransomware scam involves an Android app masquerading as a Covid-19 contact tracing app. If installed, it encrypts all personal information, leaving an email address to contact if the user wants to rescue their data,” the document adds.

This is an ongoing issue for Apple and it remains to be seen whether they prevail in convincing the US government about the benefits of its current way of doing things.


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