'Sideloading' Bill Exposes Consumers To Privacy Risks, Apple CEO Warns

Apple CEO Tim Cook warned Tuesday against a proposed antitrust law that would require the company to allow iPhone and iPad users to download apps from sources other than the App Store.

“Policymakers are taking steps, in the name of competition, that would force Apple to let apps onto iPhones that circumvent the App Store through a process known as 'sideloading,'” Cook said in a speech delivered at a meeting of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

“That means data hungry companies would be able to avoid our privacy rules and once again track our users against their will,” Cook continued, referring to Apple's requirement that developers obtain users' explicit permission before tracking their activity across apps.

Cook added that allowing sideloading “would also potentially give bad actors a way around the comprehensive security protections we put in place, putting them in direct contact with our users.”

His remarks come as Congress is considering the “Open App Market Act,” introduced by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota).

That measure would require app marketplaces with more than 50 million U.S. users to allow sideloading. Google has long allowed sideloading, but Apple famously does not.

A Senate committee recently approved the bill by a vote of 20-2.

In his speech, Cook took issue with supporters' argument that the bill would merely give consumers more options.

“Proponents of these regulations argue that no harm would be done by simply giving people a choice. But taking away a more secure option will leave users with less choice not more,” he said. “And when companies decide to leave the App Store because they want to exploit user data, it could could put significant pressure on people to engage with alternate app stores -- app stores where their security and privacy may not be protected.”

Cook also broadly condemned some tracking practices, saying that Apple was committed “to protecting people from a data industrial complex built on a foundation of surveillance.”

“At this very moment, companies are mining data about the details of our lives the shops and restaurants we frequent, the causes we support, the websites we choose to read,” he said.

“Who would stand for such a thing if it were occurring in the physical world?” he asked.

Cook asked audience members to imagine a stranger following them as they took their children to school, then opened their computers and found the same stranger watching their keystrokes.

“You wouldn't call that a service,” he said. “You would call that an emergency.”

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