Apple should allow users to install apps from outside the App Store under legislation recently unveiled by the EU. This provision was included in the original proposal for the sweeping Digital Markets Act, or DMA, which this week moved one step closer to signing the law, and an EU spokesperson confirmed the provision is still in place.
“We believe that the owner of a smartphone should be free to choose how to use it,” European Commission spokesman Johannes Bahrke said in an emailed statement. “That freedom also means that you can choose alternative sources of apps on your smartphone. With the DMA, a smartphone owner would still be able to enjoy secure services from the standard app store on their smartphones. In addition, if a user chooses to do so, the DMA would allow a smartphone owner to choose other secure app stores as well.”
In addition to allowing third-party stores on its platform, Apple would also be forced to allow users to install third-party apps (a practice known as sideloading) and allow developers to access the App Store. without using Apple’s payment systems.
The DMA has not yet been voted into law by the European Parliament, but is expected to be passed without much difficulty. That could mean that the DMA will come into effect as early as October of this year. The EU Member States can then choose exactly how they want to translate EU law into national law.
In the past, Apple has strongly objected to sideloading on the iPhone, arguing that it would compromise the security of its platform. “Allowing sideloading would degrade the security of the iOS platform and expose users to serious security risks not only in third-party app stores, but also in the App Store,” according to a report released by Apple last year. Tim Cook has argued that sideloading “would destroy the iPhone’s security”.
While the Mac has long allowed users to download apps from outside Apple’s official store, Apple has argued that this approach isn’t appropriate for the iPhone, as these devices contain more sensitive information. Despite this, there are plenty of ways for sufficiently determined users to sideload apps onto an iPhone. AltStore installs a full third-party app store on an iPhone, and Apple’s proprietary enterprise app program allows businesses to load custom apps. Developers often use TestFlight to also distribute apps that are not fully approved for the App Store.
The EU thinks Apple’s security vulnerabilities can be addressed by giving users the choice, so they can choose in their device’s settings and where they can easily install apps. Google already offers similar toggles on Android, which a user must manually disable to download apps from third-party sources.
When asked for comment, Apple said it was concerned that “some provisions of the DMA will create unnecessary privacy and security concerns for our users, while others will prohibit us from charging for intellectual property in which we invest heavily.”