Apple CEO Buzzkills App Sideloading As A Security Nightmare, Throws Shade On Facebook Privacy

Apple CEO Tim Cook
As an iPhone user for the past several years, there have been times when I wished there was a way to side-load apps, without resorting to a process known as jailbreaking, which typically involves exploiting a vulnerability to to remove software restrictions. Well, guess what? It is not going to happen any time soon, or perhaps ever, considering Apple CEO Tim Cook's recent comments on the matter.

It is an interesting topic, because side-loading gives way to third-party app stores. That would have all sorts of implications, not the least of which is potentially cutting into a major source of revenue for Apple, which collects a royalty charged to app developers (both for apps sold on the App Store, and through in-app purchases).

On the surface, however, Cook's concern is the user privacy. In a recent podcast with Kara Swisher, Cook touched on a number of topics, including what side-loading would mean for iPhone and iPad users.

"If you had side-loading, you would break the privacy and security model," Cook said when asked why there can't be other app stores than the one Apple maintains. "You'd be opening up a huge vector on another store."

Cook also pointed to the importance of curation to the overall App Store experiences. He noted that developers collectively submit 100,000 apps for review in any given week, and out of those "40,000 are rejected."

"Most of them are rejected because they don’t work or don’t work like they say that they work. You can imagine if curation went away, what would occur to the App Store in a very short amount of time," Cook said.

Part of what also makes this interesting is that Apple's curation process is not perfect. Malicious apps slip through the cracks from time to time. For example, a scam Bitcoin app robbed an iPhone user of $600,000 worth of cryptocurrency (now worth close to $1 million), by fraudulently posing as a digital wallet. The app sneaked its way through Apple's approval process by billing itself as an encryption application.

Cook also discussed other topics beyond the realm of side-loading, such Apple's upcoming privacy changes and how they might affect Facebook, which makes a mint off targeted adds.

"All we’re doing, Kara, is giving the user the choice whether to be tracked or not. And I think it’s hard to argue against that. I’ve been shocked that there’s been a pushback on this to this degree. Because I mean, how do you argue against that?," Cook said.

While Cook was careful not to mention Facebook specifically, he alluded the company's pushback as being based on "flimsy arguments. Starting soon, iOS devices will alert users with a pop-up message when an app tries to track them, as part of a new App Tracking Transparency initiative. Cook says this is  "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."

It's an interesting interview with Cook (hosted at The New York Times) that's worth a listen if you have a half hour to spare.