Apple Issued a Strong Notice Regarding the New iPhone Update

Apple’s largest-ever mid-cycle update for the iPhone is on the verge of arriving (here’s precisely when) and it will introduce significant enhancements for all iPhone users, globally, including a substantial security enhancement to iMessage. However, the most significant modifications are for iPhone users in the EU, in reaction to the Digital Markets Act. Today, Apple elaborated to me what those modifications signify, and how it might impact all users—especially if the U.S. or U.K. governments opt to mirror with legislation of their own.

March 2 update below. This post initially appeared on March 1, 2024.

The adjustments for EU iPhone users are thorough. Apple is mandated to open up its iOS system to allow the sideloading of apps in alternative marketplaces, to authorize web browsers not based on WebKit which underpins Safari, and to enable other payment mechanisms beyond Apple Pay on to the phone.

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Apple has now unveiled a white paper which extends to 32 pages and elaborates that while it has implemented every precaution it can to uphold iPhone users’ privacy and security, it can’t assure that things will be as secure as before.

Apple clarified to me that it has introduced new features to safeguard users but it won’t be able to defend users in the manner it can in the present setup. The white paper indicates, “To adhere to the DMA, we have established new choices for developers and users—and formed over 600 fresh APIs and developer tools to facilitate these transformations. The new choices include enabling sideloading so that EU users can download apps through app marketplaces other than the App Store, enabling alternative ways to process payments on the App Store, and numerous other alterations. This necessitated us to adjust the uniquely successful approach that we’ve utilized to protect users’ security and privacy and keep them safe.”

Some entities, such as banks, for example, have been in contact with Apple conveying worry, stating that they wish to stay solely in the App Store and might even contemplate not permitting their apps to be downloaded on to any device that has sideloaded apps on it. Currently, Apple lacks a method to inform a bank, for example, if an iPhone has downloaded an app from an external marketplace or not.

Apple is cautious of how exploitative payment techniques, mobile ransomware, and consumer spyware may be concentrated on the iPhone if it’s deemed to be more vulnerable or less secure.

For me, the crucial phrase in the white paper is this: “In practice, users in the EU will lose the choice to solely adhere to the App Store and sustain all of Apple’s industry-leading protections, even if that is what they would prefer.”

Naturally, users can simply opt to adhere exclusively to the App Store, to web browsers like Safari based on WebKit, and to payments through Apple Pay.

And certain individuals will opt to have apps not in the App Store on their phones. Apple is anxious about this, as well, mentioning it will have no command of external content: “This signifies Apple won’t be able to prevent apps with content that Apple wouldn’t allow on the App Store—like apps that distribute pornography, apps that encourage consumption of tobacco or vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol, or apps that contain pirated content (or that otherwise steal ideas or intellectual property from other developers)—from becoming accessible on alternate app marketplaces.”

Spotify has already reacted to the white paper, implying Apple is attempting to “intimidate everybody about privacy and security.”

The modifications arriving for the iPhone are merely days away, but it may take some weeks or longer to observe what the ramifications are.

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March 2 update. There’s already been a very strong response to Apple’s DMA changes and it’s fair to say they’re not exactly positive. (This is an example of the British art of understatement.) Avery Gardiner, Spotify’s global director of competition policy spoke to the Press Association news agency, as Martyn Landi reported in The Independent. Gardiner said Apple’s warnings about having to make the iPhone less secure in order to comply with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) equated to saying “the only way to have privacy and security is to allow a monopolist to continue to abuse monopoly power.”

Gardiner, Spotify’s competition policy lead, went on to say the notion that security and privacy could only come from Apple’s own App Store was “just not true”.

“If Apple were the only way to keep things private and secure, why haven’t Android users left Android in droves for Apple over concerns about privacy and security? They haven’t,” she told the PA news agency.

I think that’s true, but it’s also likely the case that a fair chunk of iPhone users stay loyal to Apple precisely because they enjoy the irreproachably good security and privacy on board.

Gardiner didn’t pull any punches, saying, “This has been their tactic globally – scare everybody about privacy and security. Tell them that the only way to have privacy and security is to allow a monopolist to continue to abuse monopoly power. I understand why they’re doing it, but it’s not truthful.”

She went on, “Apple has announced a set of proposed rules that do not comply with the DMA. “At the most basic level, the idea that you have to opt in to an onerous new fee structure in order to avail yourselves of the rights granted to you by the European Parliament is bizarre. The DMA is really clear: App stores have to let developers communicate offers free of charge. Those are the words. It doesn’t say ‘as long as you opt into an onerous new fee structure that would impose a massive tax on you’.

Finally, she said, “It is on its face, not compliant with the DMA, and the commission is going to need to open an investigation unless Apple changes its tune.”

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