April 24, 2024

Will Apple’s Antitrust Case Affect Your Phone’s Security?

Of all the allegations leveled against Apple by the Justice Department, perhaps the most controversial salvo is over security and privacy. Apple has warned that if the DOJ gets its way, Apple products – especially the iPhone – will be less safe for users. Meanwhile, the DOJ claims that Apple’s much-touted privacy features are pretexts.

The complaint in the DOJ’s antitrust case against Apple says the company “cloaks itself in a cloak of privacy, security, and consumer preferences to justify its anticompetitive conduct.” At the press conference announcing the lawsuit, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter said Apple’s choices have actually made the system “less private and less secure.”

“Apple selectively compromises privacy and security interests when it is in Apple’s own financial interest to do so,” the complaint reads, “such as degrading the security of text messages, allowing governments and certain companies to gain access to more private and secure versions of app stores, or accepting billions of dollars a year for choosing Google as the default search engine when more private options are available.”

It’s a particularly aggressive attack on a company whose brand strategy places a strong emphasis on privacy by design. In Epic vs. Applethe judge ruled that user privacy and device security were acceptable reasons behind some of the company’s highly restrictive (and financially lucrative) App Store policies.

In press conferences, Apple spokespeople have taken umbrage with the DOJ’s claim that the company’s privacy and security features are pretexts and argued that the antitrust lawsuit will ultimately harm users.

The DOJ’s attack on one of the core tenets of Apple’s brand identity depends on how broad the overall concept of user privacy is, and goes far beyond the issue of the App Store review to make its point.

The complaint highlights that, unlike iMessages, iPhone users’ SMS communications with Android users (i.e. green bubble texts) are not encrypted.

“Apple is forcing other platforms to use text messaging. It does not allow them to integrate with iMessage or any other built-in encrypted messaging platform,” said Cliff Steinhauer, director of information security and engagement at the National Cybersecurity Alliance. The edge in a telephone interview. Because text messages are not encrypted, they are less secure by default.

Apple has previously said that later this year its devices will start supporting RCS, a more secure messaging protocol that will make communications with Android devices encrypted.

But the DOJ finds itself on shakier ground once the focus shifts from the green bubble texts to the App Store. At the DOJ press conference, a reporter noted that a member of Congress said that stripping Apple of the ability to review products uploaded to the App Store could “open the door to apps based in China and Russia made, and other opponents, if you will .”

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the purpose of the lawsuit is to limit “exclusionary behavior” in the App Store, not to reduce Apple’s ability to vet apps. The lawsuit specifically asks the court to prevent Apple from “using its control over app distribution to undermine cross-platform technologies such as super apps and cloud streaming apps.”

But super apps like WeChat actually function as their own app stores. For the DOJ, this has less to do with privacy than with competition. It’s not like this came out of nowhere: the lawsuit notes a board presentation in which Apple described super apps like WeChat as a “major headwind” in boosting iPhone sales abroad .

However, some security experts note that Apple’s App Store is indeed more secure than the one on Android phones.

“Our data from millions of device scans on iOS and Android devices around the world suggests that open app stores lead to more malicious activity than closed ecosystems,” said Danny Rogers, the CEO of cybersecurity firm iVerify, whose app detects malware on phones and detects devices. computers. “So while opening up app stores to third parties may be good for competition, it will also likely increase malicious activity.”

That malicious activity ranges from compromise at the operating system level to the presence of spyware such as Pegasus, Rogers said The edge. “We see security issues occurring almost 100x more often on Android than on iOS,” Rogers said, even though the app has run more iOS scans than Android scans.

Daniel Kahn Gillmor, the senior staff technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said the higher rate of malware on Android devices may be related to the fact that phones have a “much longer shelf life” than iPhones . “You’re going to find more vulnerabilities on these old, outdated Android devices simply because those old, outdated Android devices are out there and on sale,” Gillmor said. “Apple has done a good job of keeping the update process regular – and also of retiring old iPhones. They will tell you, ‘This thing is no longer good, you need to buy a new one. We cannot support it.’”

Gillmor agrees that an app store “with much looser controls” could lead to “more invasive, contagious junk being pushed onto people’s phones,” he said. “But that risk is worth it, because it means we’re also allowing software that Apple might disapprove of, for whatever political reasons.”

Gillmor noted that Apple banned the game Phone storywhich satirized the company’s manufacturing process, was removed from the App Store in 2011. An app that tracks US drone strikes was rejected from the app store 12 times before Apple implemented it.

“There is no question that Apple exerts tighter control over its ecosystem than is necessary to have a healthy software ecosystem” on its phones, Gillmor said. “Even on Apple computers you can install software from anyone you want.”

For now, it’s simply too early to say how iPhone users’ privacy will be compromised. We don’t even know yet what the Justice Department wants as a remedy if it wins, let alone what it will actually get. (And of course, all of that depends on whether it wins at all.) “There are so many different parts to this,” Steinhauer said. “I don’t see how they could win it all or lose it all.”

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