Apple asks us to think of the children when it comes to side-loading

iPhone 12 in hand with display on

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
  • Apple has posted a guide online, warning people against the danger of side-loading apps on iOS.
  • It claims that side-loading would result in more malware on the platform.
  • It says that features like parental control options would be affected by the practice.

Apple has been on the warpath lately as the company comes under scrutiny for its practices related to the App Store and other businesses. The issue of side-loading apps on the iPhone is the latest focus for the company, with CEO Tim Cook speaking out against the practice in an interview last week.

Now, Apple has posted a guide on its website (h/t: 9to5Mac), titled “Building a Trusted Ecosystem for Millions of Apps.” In it, the Cupertino company outlines all the reasons why consumers aren’t allowed to have alternative app stores or the ability to side-load apps.

For starters, the iPhone maker cites a 2020 Nokia report which found that Android devices are far more likely to be infected with malware than iPhones.

“A study found that devices that run on Android had 15 times more infections from malicious software than iPhone, with a key reason being that Android apps ‘can be downloaded from just about anywhere,’ while everyday iPhone users can only download apps from one source: the App Store,” reads an excerpt of the guide.

It’s interesting to see Apple quote the 2020 Nokia report after CEO Tim Cook claimed last week that Android devices have “47 times more malware” than iOS, seemingly citing a 2019 Nokia report. We noted Cook’s use of a potentially outdated statistic at the time, but it looks like Apple has updated it. Of course, the firm’s point is that Android devices are far more susceptible to malware.

How Apple says things could go wrong

“Allowing sideloading would degrade the security of the iOS platform and expose users to serious security risks not only on third-party app stores, but also on the App Store,” the Cupertino company nevertheless asserts. It adds that even users who specifically want to only download apps from the App Store could be tricked into side-loading malicious apps.

Apple says side-loading would result in more malicious actors investing in attacks on iOS, owing to the huge install-base and the sensitive information stored on iPhones. The company also gives a few hypothetical examples of how side-loaded apps could go wrong, such as a sketchy filter app holding a user’s photos to ransom, and a sleep-tracking app using and selling your data without your permission or knowledge.

Apple also focuses on children when making its case for why you can’t have alternative app stores on its platform and why developers should just pay up. It says side-loading would make it more difficult for users to take advantage of parental control features like Ask To Buy and Screen Time.

It’s worth noting that the Mac platform allows users to side-load apps, but Apple claims that iOS requires a more locked-down approach. The firm says a different approach is needed on iOS because “the population of users, as well as their behaviors and expectations, are different.” It also asks users to think of the children once again, claiming that iOS devices need to be safe enough for kids to use without supervision. Does that imply that Macs aren’t safe enough for kids to use on their own?

The firm also outlined all the measures it’s taken to protect users from malicious apps in the App Store, such as reviewing 100,000 apps a week, automatically scanning submitted apps for malware, and built-in protections for users such as sandboxing. Of course, these measures and a ban on side-loading aren’t a guarantee that malware and sketchy apps won’t be a problem.

The Washington Post recently reported that almost 2% of the top 1,000 grossing apps were scams. It’s also worth noting that the 2020 Nokia report referenced by Apple has recorded an increase in iOS malware too, albeit accounting for 1.7% of all devices with malware (up from under 1% in 2019).

Do you think Apple should allow easier side-loading on iOS for users that want it? Let us know via the poll above.

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