Private messaging app developers worried changes in iOS 13 could ‘undermine’ privacy goals


While Apple typically touts user security as one of the major tentpoles of its company, it’s certainly not the only one out there. Private messaging apps are popular enough on iOS, but some developers working on those apps are concerned changes in iOS 13 could have a negative impact on their goals.

The Information has the report on Thursday, detailing how some developers of popular third-party private messaging apps are concerned that changes in iOS 13 could be a bane on their existence as far as their own security goals are concerned. Apple’s changes are meant to improve general security in its mobile operating system, which it outlined back at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference back in June.

iOS 13 is already in beta testing, as is iOS 13.1, but the software is not yet available to the general public (outside of a public beta, which should still not be used on a daily driver).

This change has actually already been reported on, at least in part, as it has led to companies like Facebook to fear that its own apps could be impacted by the change in iOS 13. Specifically, Apple is making alterations to the way the PushKit VoIP API is accessed, which can limit background actions and voice calls made with apps like Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp apps.

Now, it looks like Apple’s planned changes for iOS 13 will impact additional apps, namely private messaging apps like Signal, Wickr, Wire, and Threema, among others.

In a statement to The Information, Apple does say it is already working with many developers in an effort to resolve their concerns:

We’ve heard feedback on the API changes introduced in iOS 13 to further protect user privacy and are working closely with iOS developers to help them implement their feature requests.

Interestingly, Julia Weiss, a spokesperson for Threema, says that Apple’s changes in iOS 13 may lead to “the opposite of the privacy goals the changes were supposed to achieve”.

The reason for this is because the change that Apple is making to the VoIP API and PushKit impacts the way these private messaging apps decrypt messages. (These messages are typically encrypted end-to-end, similar to iMessage.) The apps use this API to decrypt the messages in the background, which makes conversations more seamless. Apple’s change to the VoIP API will make this not possible for the third-party private messaging apps.

It is worth noting that a workaround exists, and developers are already moving in that direction — with Apple aiming to help as well. However, it’s a lot of additional work, and many developers weren’t expecting this to be an issue.

This type of thing is not unheard of. Apple’s primary focus has to be on its own platform, but also making it possible for the apps that have made iOS so popular can still work on it, too. It’s a delicate balance. At least the company has given developers until 2020 to comply with the changes. Of course, if those devs want their app to work right out of the gate, they’ll need to make the necessary changes right away.

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