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Apple's war on sideloading

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Good morning! This Thursday, Apple's battle against sideloading gets heated, Tom Hanks has a good reason for not going to space, and a group spent $250,000 on a metal cube, no big deal.

A little extra on the side?

Halloween may be over, but if you want to know what haunts a tech company, you can always take a look at the chipper, TED-style keynote speeches it gives. In Apple's case, the stuff of its nightmares may be sideloading apps onto the iPhone. That, and Facebook.

Apple is the only thing standing between you, data-gobbling social media services and digital thugs. That was more or less the message that Apple's iOS (and macOS) chief, Craig Federighi, delivered in a speech at Web Summit yesterday.

  • Federighi was cheerful enough on the stage of a major tech conference in Portugal, but he pushed back in fearful terms on proposed European rules that would require Apple to allow customers to download their own apps outside app stores.
  • The speech actually had the tone of a law-and-order political ad, as Federighi said the proposals would be like forcing secure homes to install unlocked doors amid an uptick in burglaries.
  • "Attackers are virtually dressing up as mailmen, building tunnels underground and trying to scale your backyard walls with grappling hooks," Federighi said.

Federighi seemed to be upping the rhetoric at a moment when the threat is growing, even though Apple has previously been open about its displeasure with the European plans, known as the Digital Markets Act.

  • In addition to the DMA, several serious proposed bills in the U.S. would require Apple to support sideloading (albeit with broader exceptions for security than Europe seems to have), or else would force the company to allow consumers to erase preloaded apps.
  • Epic also unsuccessfully sought sideloading in its lawsuit against Apple, a threat seemingly so worrying that Federighi himself testified about it at the trial and threw macOS under the bus. Plenty of other jurisdictions are gunning for Apple's model, too.
  • It all makes sense why Apple would fight so hard: The company's brand is pretty much privacy/security, plus the idea that it's already made the hardest choices for you. Sideloading threatens to upend what makes Apple, Apple.
  • Of course, limiting apps to those in the branded, official iPhone App Store also means forcing developers to accept the terms that allow Apple to extract its fee on in-app transactions — a model which is also under threat.

But Meta was also lurking in the dark for Federighi. The two companies have been in an increasingly tense and expensive feud for years, and earlier this year, Apple began alerting iPhone users to the ways Facebook and other apps track them around the device. Many of those users opted out of that tracking, and Facebook is not happy about it at all.

  • Then during yesterday's speech, Federighi invited his audience to imagine "a social networking app that your friends are all on," but that isn't particularly scrupulous about data protection.
  • In doing so, he all but named the world's biggest social media company. Federighi went on to suggest that, if there's sideloading, this hypothetical app would just let its privacy practices get even more intrusive, knowing it'd get kicked out of the App Store but could still be downloaded.
  • "Privacy features that go beyond the bare minimum legal standards — the ones that users truly rely on to keep their information safe — well, these would no longer exist for these apps," Federighi told the audience.

Facebook is becoming a potent weapon for Apple as it pushes back against international efforts that it views as a threat.

  • After all, saying a bill or regulation you don't like is bad because it will help some other scandal-plagued company is Advocacy 101, and amidst the Frances Haugen revelations, there are few companies that give government officials the creeps more than Facebook.
  • The message could well carry over to closed-door talks with lawmakers and regulators too. There's often plenty of overlap between companies' public statements and their private lobbying.
  • There have also been whispers from Apple world that Facebook secretly likes tech antitrust proposals on self-preferencing for exactly the reasons Federighi outlined. Mark Zuckerberg even hit back at Apple early this year for preferencing its own apps, and just yesterday, he announced a way for creators to evade Apple's App Store tax.
  • A grain of salt here, though: Facebook will be facing huge problems if tech antitrust reforms become law, and the company slammed a recent bipartisan Senate bill on self-preferencing as attempting "to dismantle the products and services people depend on."

Either way, it's clear that the two companies aren't backing off one another anytime soon. And it's also clear that, even if Apple is now letting apps alert users to cheaper payments systems, the company's fear of sideloading is something more durable. It's got the makings of a long, and spooky, tale.

— Ben Brody (email | twitter)

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People are talking

Brad Smith thinks building tech to fight the climate crisis is hard but possible:

  • "This is a little bit like John F. Kennedy saying in 1961 that America would go to the moon by 1970. No one had yet designed a lunar lander."

Moving fast doesn't have to mean breaking things, Reid Hoffman said:

  • "You can still totally emphasize the speed that you need in order to compete and think responsibly. You can think about the big risks. Are you breaking a system? Are you causing real harm to people?"

Tom Hanks told Jimmy Kimmel he was asked to head to space before William Shatner, but he had a pretty good reason for not going on the trip:

  • "I'm doing good, Jimmy — I'm doing good — but I ain't paying $28 million."

Jen Easterly blamed the "American way of life" for ongoing cyber threats:

  • "Ransomware has become a scourge on nearly every facet of our lives."

Qualcomm's Cristiano Amon is surprisingly optimistic about the chip shortage:

  • "We still expect material improvements to our supply by the end of the calendar year and our second sourcing initiatives remain on track."

Making moves

Google News is reentering Spain. The news service left the country almost seven years ago after Spain implemented a law that forced aggregators like Google to pay publishers for article links.

Meredith Whittaker is joining the FTC. The former Google employee will serve as a senior adviser on AI.

Nat Friedman is leaving GitHub. He's been the company's CEO for three years and will be replaced by Thomas Dohmke, GitHub's chief product officer.

Dominick Delfino is joining Nutanix as chief revenue officer. He previously worked in the same role at Pure Storage and worked at VMware before that.

Kevin Mayer will help out with the Discovery and WarnerMedia merger. The former TikTok and Disney exec will serve as a consultant on the deal.

In other news

Intel is scared of losing workers by enforcing a vaccine mandate, but the company hasn't necessarily surveyed its employees about the issue. Instead, the chipmaker offers a $250 bonus to vaccinated workers.

Facebook will help people get around App Store fees. Creators will be able to share links that people can subscribe through in order to avoid Apple's in-app subscription, and the platform will give creators bonuses for every new subscriber.

Google is gunning for a contract with the Pentagon, according to The New York Times. The company is trying to secure a contract that would provide the military with its AI technology, even after employees resisted a similar deal a few years ago.

Boeing is joining the space internet race. The FCC allowed it to launch 147 satellites, and it plans to become a real competitor to Starlink and Amazon's Project Kuiper.

How do you get your team to use vacation days? In a time of more "unlimited" vacation packages, people aren't using them. So some companies are mandating time off — and finding it makes a big difference.

The NSO Group is blacklisted. The Commerce Department put the Israeli organization, as well as a couple others, on the trade blacklist for allegedly selling spyware to foreign governments that was used to target journalists and officials.

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TungstenDAO bought a Tungsten cube. The cryptocurrency meme weighs 2,000 pounds, costs around $250,000 and will be delivered once the cube's NFT representation is burnt. OK!

The OG smartphone

You might not remember, but Apple did not make the first smartphone. That happened years earlier, by a small startup called Handspring, which is the inspiration for The Verge's new documentary, "Springboard: The secret history of the first real smartphone."

The 30-minute film includes talks with some of the startup's early leaders. It also looks at how Handspring managed to get ahead of its Silicon Valley peers at the time, even as a relatively small company. People may have forgotten — or never even heard of — Handspring, but it's an important piece of history in the smartphone revolution.

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