Epic Games vs. Apple will decide if you can control what goes on your phone

Posted April 30, 2021, 6:16 PM




Basic human rights and meaningful safety reforms for our digital devices are at stake as two tech industry behemoths wage a legal war over the nuances of digital payment systems

On Monday a California court will hear opening arguments from video game developer Epic Games, creator of Fortnite, and Silicon Valley giant Apple. The impact of the court’s ruling will have a profound impact on what freedoms and protections people are allowed for the technology products they own, such as their smartphones.

"What you choose to put on your phone is your business, plain and simple," said Dayton Young (he/him), Product Director at Fight for the Future. "When we allow Apple to completely control every app that we install on our iPhones and iPads, we are giving Apple the power to decide what news we read, what shows we watch, what games we play, and what digital tools we use. Time and again, Apple has proven that they are willing to censor pro-democracy content, appease authoritarian governments, and trample on our basic human rights for profit. It is simply too dangerous to let them continue to hold monopoly power over the App Store."

Apple currently forces iPhone owners to install software exclusively through the iOS App Store. Apple says that this is to protect iPhone owners from malicious apps and spyware, but that argument doesn’t hold up under scrutiny; security overview of iPhone apps is infamously superficial. Meanwhile, Apple Mac owners are free to install any apps or software they want. So either Apple is lying about iPhone security to protect their cut of all app sales and in-app purchases, or Apple is intentionally selling millions of Mac computers that leave customers vulnerable to hacking and malware.

Notably, Apple’s "walled garden" approach to app installation hasn’t kept the App Store from being overrun by fake apps and multimillion-dollar scams. That’s because Apple employees charged with reviewing apps reportedly review between 50 to 100 apps per day, spending as little as one minute to determine whether an app is appropriate for iTunes. Apple’s argument that App Store review is necessary for security is simply dishonest and endangers people with the false perception of safety.

"App Store review is security theater," said Ken Mickles (he/him), Chief Technology Officer at Fight for the Future. "You can’t tell if an app is malicious by poking at its user interface for 5 minutes. iPhone security comes down to sandboxing and app notarization, neither of which depend on the App Store."

Even worse, Apple’s complete control over what people install on their personal devices is a disaster for human rights. The App Store monopoly has been co-opted by authoritarian governments to censor important information and attack pro-democracy movements, removing the New York Times from the iOS App Store in China and banning apps made by religious minorities in Pakistan. Here in the US, Apple prevented people with iOS devices from accessing Drone+, a news app that used publicly-available information to notify people every time a drone strike occurs. The list of shocking abuses goes on and on and on.

The digital rights activists at Fight for the Future don’t want to leave this important decision up to the courts, so they’re calling on Congress to pass legislation that will end Apple’s App Store monopoly and ensure people everywhere can install whatever they want on the devices they own. If you’d like to contact your lawmakers in Congress — or if you’d like to learn more about the dangers of Apple’s business model — please visit AbolishTheAppStore.org.