Apple defends the App Store ahead of antitrust debates

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Apple today released a 16-page report that basically explains why it would be a bad idea to open its mobile app stores. The report, dubbed “Building an Ecosystem of Trust for Millions of Apps,” defines the company’s defense of the status quo. He says if the United States forced Apple to let third parties load apps on iPhones and iPads, it would irrevocably harm the app market.

As CNBC reports, the timing of this release coincides with the United States’ plan to debate a series of antitrust bills aimed at restricting the power of Big Tech. These bills will cover a wide variety of topics, from the outcome of Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram to the Apple App Store. Lobbyists for rival companies, led by Epic Games, have said the way Apple runs its development platform is unfair and monopolistic.

Currently, the only way for a user to install an app on their iOS device (or iPad OS and WatchOS) is through the Apple App Store. The company charges developers a 15% flat fee on their first million dollars in sales, rising to 30% thereafter. Buyers are also limited to using Apple’s secure payment platform, and each app is verified by the company before sale. There are a number of additional rules on this, each with the stated purpose of reducing the risk that crooks will defraud, cheat, or harm iPhone users.

Apple justifies this by saying that its mobile devices are repositories of information that can never be left exposed. Unlike, for example, the Mac, which it treats as a more open general-purpose computing platform, which can install apps from any developer without restriction. He says the trust people place in their iPhones is paramount and cites advice from the US Department of Homeland Security to avoid loading apps on their devices.

(The company knows all too well what happens when ecosystems, or at least accounts on those platforms, are breached. In 2014, hackers were able to gain access to accounts hosted on iCloud through spear phishing and have posted images of these accounts online.)

By comparison, Apple says Android – which allows for sideloading of apps and is seen as a more open platform – is riddled with security holes. He said that “Android apps aimed at children have been discovered to engage in data collection practices that violate children’s privacy” and that “malicious actors have placed inappropriate or obscene advertisements on apps intended for children. children ”. The company added that side-loading games can bypass parental controls, trigger ransomware attacks, or trick people into handing over money.

Apple sums up its position by saying that opening the platform “would put all users at risk” as it would encourage malicious actors to find loopholes in the platform. Users who had “learned to take the security and protection of the iPhone and the App Store for granted had to be constantly on the lookout for the ever-changing tips of cybercriminals and crooks.” And, as a result, users would be more reluctant to fully download apps, which could hurt the developer community.

Of course, Apple critics would dispute much of what the company has described here, and even some of its fans. For example, Apple’s seemingly stringent system for filtering and blocking fraudulent apps is lax enough that many of them have reached the storefront. Developer Kosta Eleftheriou, as explained in a long article on The edge, has identified a number of scam apps that scam users but have made it through Apple’s review process. There are also questions about whether Apple is making money on these fraudulent transactions. (As TechCrunch reported at the time, the company’s Kyle Andeer said tracking such scams was a “cat-and-mouse game” and that Apple was acting to “rectify” app scams “very quickly”).

Developers, too, are annoyed that they should be responsible for such a large commission given Apple’s size and wealth. Early 2021, CNBC reported that the store has gross sales of around $ 64 billion, and the developers are wondering what can justify that kind of money. Until November 2020, the reduction was a flat rate of 30%, although the company cut it in half for small businesses with less than $ 1 million in sales.

The dispute over Apple’s insistence that in-app purchases should use its platform to guard against fraud came to a head in mid-2020. Epic Games, creators of hits Fortnite, pushed for an update of the application that circumvented the ban on payments by third parties. Apple duly responded by blocking the app for violating its policies, and Epic retaliated by taking the company to court. A similar situation occurred when the Hey messaging app was approved and then removed from the App Store for asking users to pay for the service on its website.

A number of objections have also been raised about how Apple may grant exemptions for some companies, but not others. Documents released during the Epic / Apple trial seemed to indicate that the iPhone maker made several openings to Netflix, offering perks to prevent the streamer from removing in-app purchases. Likewise, Apple appeared to be giving Amazon more favorable terms to get the Prime Video app on the platform than it does for other so-called “playback apps”.

And situations where Apple restricts both the operation of competing companies on the App Store and their competition apply to companies like Spotify. The Swedish audio streaming giant filed a complaint with the European Union, which then opened one of several antitrust investigations into the iPhone maker. This has been reflected in a number of surveys around the world, with regulators vowing to examine exactly how Apple is keeping its App Store in order.

In its 16-page missive, Apple said it’s a combination of hardware, software, and monitoring that makes its devices so secure. “Apple’s many layers of security provide users with an unmatched level of protection against malware, giving them peace of mind. Some developers, however, believe Apple’s devices are secure enough that sideloading isn’t as dire as the company claims. Last year, GK8’s Yair Ivnitsky told Engadget that iOS is secure enough that it takes too much time and money for hackers to even care about.

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