Proposed Antitrust Laws a Privacy Disaster Warns Tim Cook

Antitrust legislation pending in the U.S. and European Union is at odds with consumer privacy initiatives in those territories, Apple CEO Tim Cook told attendees of the IAPP Global Privacy Summit 2022 in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Speaking out against proposed “gatekeeper” rules, Cook warned that “when companies decide to leave the App Store because they want to exploit user data, it could put significant pressure on people to engage with alternate app stores — app stores where their privacy and security may not be protected.”

Antitrust law updates on both shores would force Apple to loosen its iron-clad grip on iPhone apps, forcing their distribution outside of the Apple App Store — known as sideloading — among other initiatives designed to increase competition. As evidenced by last week’s Big Tech lobbying days, the industry is throwing its support behind consumer privacy laws in the hopes that might help them out of legislators’ antitrust crosshairs.

“The issue of user privacy is a favorite topic of Mr. Cook’s when he makes a rare public appearance, routinely calling it a ‘fundamental human right,’” reports The Wall Street Journal. Apple’s App Store has emerged as ground zero on the global market share battlefield — a walled garden where app developers must pay as much as 30 percent if they want to access Apple’s 1.23 billion iPhone users worldwide.

WSJ notes “several high-profile tech companies that operate in the app economy have taken issue with how Apple does business, arguing the iPhone maker’s claims that its restrictive policies ensure user privacy and safety are, in fact, unfairly benefiting its own business and hurting theirs.”

Naming Facebook parent Meta Platforms among those “unhappy with a change Apple made to its phone software last year that requires users to agree to having their online usage tracked by apps” appears to support Cook’s contention. Regulators are likely to ask why society can’t have both.

In Europe, the Digital Markets Act does just that and “is moving toward final approval, while pieces of legislation in Congress are being considered and are far from becoming law,” says WSJ.

Cook’s speech warned against a “data industrial complex built on a foundation of surveillance,” reports Cult of Mac, explaining “that refers to data mining firms and the information they get from websites and apps.”

Other privacy concerns Cook referenced range from “dangerous actors, sophisticated hackers and ransomware gangs, to the everyday con artist,” writes Cult of Mac, which also quoted the Apple chief’s cautions over sideloading, which would allow “data-hungry companies to avoid our privacy rules, and once again track our users against their will.”

By way of example of how this occurs on non-iOS platforms, Cult of Mac says Cook “described how some smartphone users downloaded seemingly legitimate COVID-19 tracing apps, ‘only to find their devices infected with ransomware,’” a misfortune deflected by “the App Store’s defenses.”

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