Tim Cook delivers speech railings against “Data Industrial Complex”, sideloading

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Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the IAPP 2022 conference.

Apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the annual International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) conference Tuesday to discuss privacy, security, ad tracking and sideloading.

Calling privacy “one of the most important battles of our time,” Cook has criticized companies that monetize large user data collection operations, comparing them to real-life stalkers.

In contrast, he claimed that Apple is “committed to protecting people from a data-industrial complex built on a foundation of surveillance.” To thunderous applause from the audience of privacy experts, he expressed his support for US privacy regulations similar to those that have been passed in Europe in recent years.

On the other hand, he said he and Apple are “deeply concerned by regulations that would undermine privacy and security in the service of another goal such as protecting competition.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at IAPP 2022

While he didn’t specifically name them, he was likely referring to the European Union’s Digital Markets Act and the United States’ Open App Markets Act, which contain language forcing platform owners like Apple to allow sideloading.

The current version of the Digital Markets Act no longer includes a sideloading requirement, but is not yet complete. The Open App Markets Act still has a sideloading requirement; the Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved it, but it has not yet entered Congress.

Regarding new rules like these, Cook said:

This means data-hungry companies could circumvent our privacy rules and once again prosecute our users against their will. It would also potentially give attackers a way to bypass the extensive security safeguards we have in place and put them in direct contact with our users, and we have already seen the vulnerability emerging on other companies’ devices.

He cited a notable example to support this point: Android users who sideloaded seemingly legitimate COVID-19 tracking apps and, as a result, found their phones were infected with ransomware.

“If we’re forced to let unapproved apps onto the iPhone, the unintended consequences will be profound,” Cook said. “And when we see that, we feel compelled to speak out — and to urge policymakers to work with us to advance goals that I truly believe we share, without undermining privacy in the process.”

A key part of his reasoning is that sideloading could become so commonplace that important apps can only be installed using that method, rather than through the App Store, which Cook says is safer. When that happens, Cook argues, the notion of giving users choice disappears because they might feel pressured to sideload apps, thereby exposing themselves to malicious actors.

Cook also tried to reassure listeners that “Apple believes in competition.” However, he offered no alternative solutions for those affected, as Apple’s control of the App Store allows it to charge app developers exorbitant fees or subject developers to capricious or unfair rules.

Cook’s speech wasn’t the first time an Apple executive took the stage at a major conference to argue that new regulations designed to ensure continued competition could undermine user security and privacy. Craig Federighi gave a similar speech at Web Summit 2021.


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