April 24, 2024
U.S. Justice Department Sues Apple Over Monopoly and Messaging Security
The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), along with 16 other state and district attorneys general, on Thursday accused Apple of illegally maintaining a monopoly over smartphones, thereby undermining, among other things, the security and privacy of users when messaging non-iPhone users. "Apple wraps itself in a cloak of privacy, security, and consumer preferences to justify its

Mar 22, 2024NewsroomPrivacy / Encryption

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), along with 16 other state and district attorneys general, on Thursday accused Apple of illegally maintaining a monopoly over smartphones, thereby undermining, among other things, the security and privacy of users when messaging non-iPhone users.

“Apple wraps itself in a cloak of privacy, security, and consumer preferences to justify its anticompetitive conduct,” the landmark antitrust lawsuit said. “Apple deploys privacy and security justifications as an elastic shield that can stretch or contract to serve Apple’s financial and business interests.”

“Apple selectively compromises privacy and security interests when doing so is in Apple’s own financial interest – such as degrading the security of text messages, offering governments and certain companies the chance to access more private and secure versions of app stores, or accepting billions of dollars each year for choosing Google as its default search engine when more private options are available.”

The sprawling complaint also alleged that iPhone users who message a non-iPhone user via the Messages app are defaulted to the less secure SMS format (as opposed to iMessage) that lacks support for encryption and offers limited functionality. On the other hand, iMessage is end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) and is even quantum-resistant.

It’s worth noting at this stage that iMessage is only available on the iPhone and other Apple devices. Apple has repeatedly said it has no plans of making iMessage interoperable with Android, even stating that doing so will “will hurt us more than help us.”

Furthermore, the 88-page lawsuit called out the iPhone maker for blocking attempts by third-parties to bring secure cross-platform messaging experience between iOS and Android platform.

In December 2023, Beeper managed to reverse engineer the iMessage protocol and port the service to Android through a dedicated client called Beeper Mini. Apple, however, has shut down those efforts, arguing that Beeper “posed significant risks to user security and privacy, including the potential for metadata exposure and enabling unwanted messages, spam, and phishing attacks.”

These limitations have a powerful network effect, driving consumers to continue buying iPhones and less likely to switch to a competing device, the DoJ said, adding, “by rejecting solutions that would allow for cross-platform encryption, Apple continues to make iPhone users’ less secure than they could otherwise be.”

The development comes as Apple is facing more scrutiny than ever to open up its tightly-controlled software ecosystem — the so-called “walled garden” — which regulators say locks in customers and developers. Other major tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Meta have all dealt with similar lawsuits in recent years.

Apple, in a surprise move late last year, announced that it intends to add support for Communication Services (RCS) – an upgraded version of the SMS standard with modern instant messaging features – to its Messages app. It also said it will work with the GSMA members to integrate encryption.

In response to the lawsuit, Cupertino said it will “vigorously defend” itself and that the lawsuit “threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets.” It also said that DoJ winning the lawsuit would “set a dangerous precedent, empowering the government to take a heavy hand in designing people’s technology.”

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