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Apple would be forced to allow sideloading and third-party app stores under new EU law

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As a result of the EU’s Digital Markets Act

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple would be forced to allow users to install apps from outside the App Store under legislation recently unveiled by the EU. This stipulation was included in the initial proposal for the bloc’s sweeping Digital Markets Act, or DMA, which came one step closer to being signed into law this week, and an EU spokesperson confirmed that the provision is still included.

“We believe that the owner of a smartphone should have the freedom to choose how to use it,” said European Commission spokesperson Johannes Bahrke in an emailed statement. “This freedom includes being able to opt for alternative sources of apps on your smartphone. With the DMA, a smartphone owner would still be able to enjoy safe and secure services of the default app store on their smart phones. On top of that, if a user so chooses, the DMA would allow a smartphone owner to also opt for other safe app stores.”

In addition to allowing third-party stores on its platform, Apple would also be forced to allow users to install apps from third-party sources (a practice known as sideloading) and to allow developers to use 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 approved without much trouble. That could mean the DMA coming into force as early as October this year. Members states of the EU will then be able to choose how exactly to interpret the EU act into national law.

In the past, Apple has stringently 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 on third-party app stores, but also on the App Store,” a report put out by Apple last year said. Tim Cook has argued that sideloading would “destroy the security of the iPhone.”

Although the Mac has long allowed users to download apps from outside of Apple’s official store, Apple has argued this approach isn’t appropriate on the iPhone because these devices carry more sensitive information. Despite this, there are plenty of ways for sufficiently determined users to get apps sideloaded onto an iPhone. AltStore installs an entire third-party app store on an iPhone, and Apple’s own enterprise app program allows businesses to load on custom apps. Developers often use TestFlight to distribute apps that haven’t been fully approved for the App Store, too.

The EU thinks Apple’s security concerns can be mitigated by putting choice in the hands of users, allowing them to select in their device’s settings and select where they’re comfortable installing apps from. Google already offers similar toggles on Android, which a user must manually turn off in order to download apps from third-party sources.

When reached for comment, Apple spokesperson Emma Wilson sent the same statement previously received from Fred Sainz which said it’s concerned that “some provisions of the DMA will create unnecessary privacy and security vulnerabilities for our users while others will prohibit us from charging for intellectual property in which we invest a great deal.”

Update March 28th, 4:33AM ET: Updated to properly attribute Apple’s statement.