Sideloading Apps Would ‘Break’ the Security and Privacy of iPhone, Says Tim Cook

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In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times’ Kara Swisher, on her podcast “Sway,” Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about Apple’s feud with Facebook, its stance on privacy, Apple’s legal battle with Epic Games, and possible future Apple innovations such as Apple Glasses.

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Apple is in the midst of a heated public spat with Facebook over privacy, particularly over an upcoming feature on iOS that will require apps to ask for users consent before tracking them.

The new feature called ATT, or App Tracking Transparency, coming with iOS 14.5 in “a few weeks,” according to Cook, will force apps to ask users for permission to track them across other apps and websites. Facebook has argued vehemently against the new feature, saying it impacts small businesses that rely on personalized ads, derived from tracking, to keep afloat.

‌Tim Cook‌ says he disagrees with that argument, indirectly saying that Facebook’s point of view is “flimsy.” Cook calls privacy the “top issue of the 21st century,” adding that with tracking, companies, such as Facebook are able to put “together an entire profile of what you’re thinking and what you’re doing.”

What [App Tracking Transparency] tries to get at is companies that are taking advantage of tracking you across apps of other companies and therefore putting together an entire profile of what you’re thinking, what you’re doing, surveilling you across the web 24/7.

They’ll see a simple pop-up that basically prompts them to answer the question, are they OK with being tracked or not? If they are, things move on. If they’re not, then the tracking is turned off.

When asked how the new feature will impact Facebook, Cook says he’s not “focused on Facebook,” saying Apple adds new tools and features every year that improves and doubles down on user privacy. Speaking more specifically to what actions may need to be taken against companies that track users, Cook says he used to be a firm believer in the ability for companies to regulate themselves but notes that’s now changed.

Generally speaking, I think privacy is one of the top issues of the 21st century, and I think we’re in a crisis. Years ago, I thought companies would regulate themselves and sort of get better. I no longer believe that. And I’m not generally somebody that is keen on regulation, but I think that regulation is required.

In a speech at a privacy conference in January, Cook strongly condemned social media companies that fuel conspiracy theories thanks to their algorithms. Cook says that Apple doesn’t have a social media platform that is “pushing stuff in your feed,” but notes it does have the App Store which it takes careful consideration in curating content for.

Well, you know, I can only speak for Apple. And from the very start, we’ve always believed in curation. And so we review every app that goes on the store. That doesn’t mean that we’re perfect at doing it. We’re not. But we care deeply about what we’re offering our users. And when we have a new product like Apple News, we have human editors that are selecting the key stories. And so they’re avoiding all of the misinformation that is out there. The reality is that the web in some areas has become a dark place. And without curation, you wind up with this firehose of things that I would not want to put into an amplifier. Which is what tech is in a large way. If you have a platform, you amplify things.

Cook in typical Apple fashion never comments on future, unreleased Apple products. However, possibly hinting at ‌Apple Glasses‌, Cook says AR is “critically” important for the future of Apple. The CEO envisions a future where conversations include more than just words, but include charts, and “other things” appearing in a virtual space.

Well, I can’t talk about anything that we may or may not have in the pipeline. But in terms of AR, the promise of AR is that you and I are having a great conversation right now. Arguably, it could even be better if we were able to augment our discussion with charts or other things to appear. Your audience would also benefit from this, too, I think. And so when I think about that in different fields, whether it’s health, whether it’s education, whether it’s gaming, whether it’s retail, I’m already seeing AR take off in some of these areas. And I think the promise is even greater in the future. So it’s a critically important part of Apple’s future.

Speaking about Apple’s fight with Epic Games, Cook says that Epic had long followed ‌App Store‌ rules, but decided to no longer follow the guidelines all other developers follow. Cook says Apple is “confident” in its case with the gaming giant.

It’s about living up to the rules and the guidelines of the ‌App Store‌, and they had done that for years and then had decided, evidently, that they didn’t want to follow the rules anymore and had passed something throughout the review process, and then after it had been through app review, changed it on the server-side. So it was sort of a deceitful move. And so we’re going into court. We’re coming to tell our story. We’re going to talk about the privacy and security aspects of the store. And we’re confident in our case.

One of ‌Epic Games‌’ biggest arguments about the Apple ecosystem is the lack of so-called “freedom” for users to download apps from places other than the ‌App Store‌. Many have long voiced their hope that Apple would allow users to sideload apps onto their device, such as the iPhone. Cook says that sideloading apps, however, would “break the privacy and security” model of the ‌iPhone‌.

In the remainder of the podcast, ‌Tim Cook‌ talks about his relationship with the President Biden administration and said he “probably” will not be Apple’s CEO in 10 years. The full 36-minute long podcast is available over at The New York Times.

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