We take apart Apple’s desperate defense of its monopoly on App distribution, point by point.
Indeed, European regulators and the US Congress are now close to the major technology companies and considering a decision on the multi-billion dollar monopoly in the distribution of mobile apps (One of five planned US antitrust bills targets Apple’s App Store).
The chain of events in recent months, which may radically change how these large companies operate, goes as follows:
- On April 30th, the EU accused Apple of monopoly in its Store, following a complaint from Spotify (there had previously been other companies and complaints).
- Apple published the document discussed here on June 9th.
- On June 11th, Legislators of the US House of Representatives presented a legislative package containing five bills. If passed, it will force Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google to remodel their business practices and content distribution mechanisms (American Innovation and Choice Online Act https://www.wsj.com/articles/apples-fight-for-control-over-apps-moves-to-congress-and-eu-11624440601).
As expected, Apple is fighting tooth and nail for its piece of the pie — a revenue of more than 64 billion per year (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/08/apples-app-store-had-gross-sales-around-64-billion-in-2020.html) that comes from total control of everything that can be developed and distributed on its devices. This conflict is fueled by the greed of these companies, which claim a commission of up to 30% even on products outside their stores (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/02/technology/apple-epic-lawsuit-app-fees.html).
I want to start by saying that this model has certainly been useful. Especially for several years, when platforms lacking sufficient maturity and looking to promote the consumption of apps needed a mechanism that would make the installation of content more efficient and straightforward. However, this has not been the case for some time now, and today we know that not only does it not justify these monopolistic practices, but, as we are going to demonstrate, it is a limitation for the proper development of a healthy ecosystem.
As I previously mentioned, Apple has been quick to defend its closed, total control model by publishing a document that attacks independent stores such as Uptodown point-by-point. What we commonly call the sideloading of apps, and whose arguments I would like to dismantle here.
As you are about to see, Apple repeatedly relies on only two elements in its entire argument:
- Security- an old way to justify the suppression of freedom and abuse of power by the “officer” on duty.
- Privacy- a fallacy that serves, paradoxically, to attribute to itself the power to breach your privacy exclusively and as thoroughly as it deems appropriate since there is no possible alternative in its approach.
The document in question is the following “Building a Trusted Ecosystem for Millions of Apps”: https://www.apple.com/privacy/docs/Building_a_Trusted_Ecosystem_for_Millions_of_Apps.pdf
Let us extract some quotes that are a good reflection of the company’s distorted view of reality.
The story starts with a quote from Steve Jobs in 2007. Now, I do not deny that it might have been difficult to foresee the proposed model at that time. Still, I think we can all agree it does not make any sense nowadays. Apple is the opposite of an open platform, and the debate that exists today is proof of that.
Apple “We’re trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once: provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc.”
Apple builds its discourse on this false premise. The document immediately goes on to appeal to fear to introduce the lever of security.
Apple “Today, our phones are not just phones; they store some of our most sensitive information about our personal and professional lives. They are with us in happy times, and in times of emergencies.”
Right, this quote is a touching message that could be easily used in any ad for home security alarms. It also downplays any other system such as personal computers or even critical systems such as servers that have been operating under Linux in an open model with total normality and security for decades.
Apple “We built the App Store to give developers from around the globe a place to build innovative apps that can reach a growing and thriving global community of over a billion users.”
Without underestimating the importance that IOS has had in innovation during the first stage of this industry, Android is a good example that dismantles this supposed causality between closed systems and the growth of communities. Android web traffic beats out IOS in every region worldwide https://www.emarketer.com/content/android-web-traffic-beats-ios-every-region-worldwide.
Apple “Given the sheer scale of the App Store platform, ensuring iPhone security and safety was of critical importance to us from the start.”
Again, there is public data on both platforms’ audience and content volumes that have opted for different approaches to the problem, so there is no justification for such a relationship.
From here on is where we hit the nail on the head with Apple’s self-proclamation as the police of the content you should or can consume based on its not debatable and opaque rules.
Apple “On the App Store, apps come from known developers who have agreed to follow our guidelines, and are securely distributed to users free from interference from third parties.”
Developers who “agree” with our Guidelines say so, and it is strictly true. But I think it is fair to discuss the legitimacy of this freedom to accept the rules when there is no alternative if you want even to exist. And not only that is Apple judge and jury; this anomaly causes absurdities such as the fact that the authors themselves do not know where they stand. In the words of Spotify’s chief legal officer https://www.theverge.com/22457400/spotify-horacio-gutierrez-apple-app-store-interview-decoder
Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify “One of the first things we did when I joined Spotify was actually look at the rules, the app developer guidelines. It was, I think, Section 311 at the time. We spent weeks looking at that rule and all it required for us was not to have a “Buy” button on the app for subscriptions. All we had to do was not to have an explicit link to an external payment site.”
With a company like Spotify, which does not lack resources, needing specialized teams for weeks to understand these guidelines, it is difficult to justify how all this helps the diversity of content and small developers.
As I mentioned, the fallacy of privacy is another of their repeated arguments. Let’s discover where the trap lies.
Apple “And when it comes to privacy, we don’t just believe it’s important — we believe it is a fundamental human right. Thanks to all these protections, users can download any app on the App Store with peace of mind. This peace of mind also benefits developers, who are able to reach a wide audience of users who feel confident downloading their apps.”
This is a clear example of what we would commonly call the fox guarding the henhouse. The cross accusations between the technology companies themselves give us a clue as to the danger of these grandiose statements full of “good” intentions, in this case, those of Facebook itself.
Facebook “Apple’s new privacy policies are anticompetitive and prioritize Apple’s own services” https://www.cpomagazine.com/data-privacy/facebook-attacks-apple-with-academic-research-commissioned-study-claims-new-ios-14-privacy-features-are-anticompetitive/
Yes, the best protection of our privacy lies in demanding transparency and the possibility of exercising the right to choose our apps’ sources. This right is undermined under this model, and transparency cannot be demanded when there are no third parties involved in creating these rules.
Apple “Allowing sideloading would open the door to a world where users may not have a choice but to accept these risks, because some apps may no longer be available on the App Store, and scammers could trick users into thinking they are safely downloading apps from the App Store when that is not the case. Sideloading would expose users to scammers who will exploit apps to mislead users, attack iPhone security features, and violate user privacy.”
Right, it points out that offering apps from other sources gives the users no choice, basically, Apple is depriving them of any intellectual capacity or autonomy.
And so, we come to the crux of the matter, the demonization of any independent alternative to the distribution of apps, without exception, without further consideration, without even consider mechanisms to warn the user. This simple statement attacks the waterline of any other possibility for acquiring apps, ignoring that different devices and operating systems have functioned with total normality for more than sixty years under a model that allows the installation of software and apps freely.
Even more shocking is Apple’s mention of authors’ income and ability to be paid for their work, when it is precisely one of the conflict triggers (see the EPIC vs. APPLE case by Tim Sweeney).
Apple “In the end, users would have to constantly be on the lookout for scams, never knowing who or what to trust, and as a result many users would download fewer apps from fewer developers. Developers themselves would become more vulnerable to threats from malicious actors who could offer infected developer tools that contain and propagate malware. Developers would also be more vulnerable to piracy, undermining their ability to get paid for their work.”
As for the troubling reason related to the developer’s loss of downloads or visibility, we must say that Apps sideloading is NOT exclusive and can coexist with the rest of official stores. Sites like Uptodown demonstrate a the improvement in the discovery of content via the web, the positive impact on ASO/SEO, and the progress of the reach in markets and devices where the big stores may have trouble. Due to performance, legislation, conflict of interest, or political issues https://luishg.medium.com/let-us-reclaim-the-role-that-historically-belongs-to-europe-52e7059d8da8.
Finally, Apple illustrates, with some examples, of course, based on the unique features of the iPhone, how it is forced to protect us. And, how any choice on the part of developers and users leads us to technological hell itself.
Apple “iPhone is used every day by over a billion people — for banking, to manage health data, and to take pictures of their families. This large user base would make an appealing and lucrative target for cybercriminals and scammers, and allowing sideloading would spur a flood of new investment into attacks on iPhone.”
We will not get into each of these examples, as they repeatedly revolve around the same fallacious arguments, drawing a doomsday scenario and always concluding that it is best for John and his family that Apple decides for them.
Learn more about how big platforms disempower developers and users building walled gardens https://luishg.medium.com/give-power-to-developers-not-stores-mobile-makers-or-operating-systems-2304b27d0c43