North Dakota’s New Bill Could Spell Trouble for iPhone Users
Allowing third-party app stores could mean trouble for iPhone security
It’s no secret that Apple likes to keep a tightly-knit ecosystem. Apple’s need for highly polished products that work so well together is the reason that iPhones, Apple Watches, and AirPods can exist. Any other brand of smartwatch or true wireless product can exist and be good, sure, but only Apple’s are tightly integrated to offer a seamless experience where the lines between devices can start to blur.
That’s why North Dakota’s new bill (Senate Bill № 2333) poses a risk to Apple’s ecosystem in a very particular area: the app store. Anyone who has ever downloaded an app has used the App Store. Everyone who uses the app store knows what to expect. It’s a highly polished (if not a little flawed) app itself that allows users to find what they’re looking for. Every app that’s listed in the App Store is approved by Apple themselves.
North Dakota’s latest bill lays out three big restrictions for app store owners whose app stores generate $10+ million in sales in the state of North Dakota:
1. Require a developer to use a digital application distribution platform or digital transaction platform as the exclusive mode of distributing a digital product.
2. Require a developer to use an in-application payment system as the exclusive mode of accepting payment from a user to download a software application or purchase a digital or physical product through a software application.
3. Retaliate against a developer for choosing to use an alternative application store or in-application payment system.
Considering that this bill is targeted at Apple (and somewhat Google, although Google already does technically offer third-party app stores), what this bill boils down to is that Apple can no longer monopolize their app store, require all purchases to be in-app only, and penalize developers who take advantage of said changes.
Though the bill is well-intentioned, it fails to consider the ramifications of its actions.
If this bill were to pass, this would force Apple into allowing for alternative ways to both publish and download apps. Anyone looking to download an app for their iPhone could use the tried and true App Store, or they could find a brand new app store with a few tricks up its sleeve. Either way, the possibility of apps being allowed for iPhone that are not approved by Apple has massive consequences. This would mean that any malicious application could be made widely available to anyone.
Predatory apps would be popping up left and right without any means of monitoring it unless the app store was hosted by a trusted source. However, even then it likely wouldn’t have the same standard of quality as Apple likes to maintain in their app store.
Although allowing more apps to be made for iPhones such as emulators (the only reason I consider going back to Android) would be phenomenal, it ultimately poses such a huge risk not only to iPhones, but to anyone willing to place their trust in third-party sources. This would likely result in the App Store still hosting a grand majority of applications with only a few edge-case apps residing elsewhere.
This is not to say that the bill is without its merit, however. It does seek to drive competition for app stores and give developers more power in how they can present and host their apps. Not only that, but it would keep Apple (and other competing app stores) from taking a large cut from developers’ profits. Developers would likely end up seeing far more money, and preventing companies from penalizing developers would mean that account subscriptions would be far easier to manage. This boosted convenience would likely result in even more profit for developers.
Despite what it’s doing for the developers, it’s overlooking the end-user experience and the impact it would have on the ecosystem’s security. It’s an inelegant solution to a convoluted problem, plain and simple.