Apple’s Huge iPhone Mistake: Bad News for 1 Billion Users
Yes, Apple’s iPhone is more secure than Android and paves the way for protecting the privacy of its over one billion users. And yes, Apple’s crackdown on Facebook and others is a game changer. But there remains a glaring flaw in Apple’s security that it could fix but won’t, as it stubbornly puts its profits ahead of your security.
The architecture behind Apple’s iMessage is the best in the business, period. It enables end-to-end multi-device encryption without the trade-offs that WhatsApp continue to live with it. It syncs continuous backup, ensuring all trusted devices can access the same chat histories, and it works across all of your devices.
But iMessage still has two major weaknesses, both of which need to be addressed and both of which impact all of its billions of users and up, not just the small minority targeted by Pegasus’ highly sophisticated attacks.
First of all, all this smart encryption technology is completely undermined by Apple which continues to store copies of the end-to-end encryption keys in general iCloud backups. Unless you disable this backup, Apple can read your messages. This issue has been in the news for the past year and should have been fixed in iOS 15.
Worse yet, the same problem also affects WhatsApp. Unless you turn off general iCloud backups, WhatsApp’s own encrypted backup solution is just as useless. “If you’ve turned on iCloud backups for your entire iPhone,” WhatsApp warns, “an unencrypted version of your chat history is also backed up to iCloud.”
Second and even more critically, iMessage will not work on multiple platforms. As we all know chatting within Apple’s ecosystem is safe, but once those blue text bubbles turn green all bets are off. And with three times as many Android users as iPhone users, that means it’s just not possible to fully secure your messaging on iMessage.
Apple’s iMessage ring-fencing has made sense so far. Android users did not have similar secure messaging and most opted for third-party platforms. Android allows you to change the default messaging application of a device to Facebook Messenger or (much better) Signal. And WhatsApp’s user base is significantly larger on Android than on iOS, especially for market share reasons.
But Google is on a mission to solve this problem. Take the reins of the worldwide deployment of RCS â Rich Communication Services, mainly SMS 2.0. This universal standard for next-generation texting began rolling out under the control of carriers around the world, but Google, frustrated with the lack of pace, took over.
RCS is primarily designed to add rich text and multimedia functionality to SMS, catching up with iMessage and the multitude of third-party platforms now available, but sticking to the spiderweb approach of being a part networks and not âover-the-topsâ â.
But Google has now added its first attempt at end-to-end RCS encryption, as seen in its own Google Messages app. This is very small compared to iMessage: no groups, no multi-devices, just 1: 1 phone messaging, but it’s built around the same protocol that secures Signal and WhatsApp and it will get better.
Apple considered fixing the iMessage cross-platform issue in 2013, exploring the option of an Android client. It appears that this was rejected so as not to undermine the rigidity of Apple’s ecosystem across families, allowing cheaper Android devices to access Apple’s Messenger. Now Google Messages has bridged the gap between iMessage’s functionality and security, but Apple’s sticky walled garden issue persists.
Just as Apple launched a slew of new persistent iMessage features with iOS 15, major US carriers all rallied around Google’s rollout of RCS, making the lack of a cross-platform Android / iOS messenger all the more glaring, making it all the more obvious. echoed early days of SMS, where inter-network messaging was not working.
While Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer mocked Apple this month, the system is down; Apple and Android are essentially pushing users towards third-party alternatives âhere’s an open invitation to people who can fix it: we’re here to help. “
IPhone users don’t benefit from Apple’s intransigence here. How can it be a good thing that the mail stored in your operating system cannot communicate securely with non-Apple devices? With no option to replace the original messaging with a different app, how is this not exactly the kind of criticism that has hit Apple, Google, and Microsoft over and over again over the years? It is not in the interest of the users.
We are in 2021 and no one should send SMS v1 messages anymore. It is not secure and prone to compromise and hackers, as we have seen several times this year alone. But essentially, Apple is telling its users that there is no choice. Unless everyone you know is using an Apple phone, the company is pushing you to unsecured text messages or a third-party app. And if the latter, you can’t make it the default. Not good.
When Android was stuck with SMS v1, Apple could reasonably claim that iMessage was as integrated with Android as Android was with itself. But that has now changed. Now Apple is isolated and must step up the plate. There is no excuse to push users to SMS v1 in 2021, not with its weaknesses so open to exploitation.
Putting user safety aside, there’s a twisted irony here for Apple. Despite the Apple vs. Facebook, Cook vs. Zuck narrative, the main beneficiary of Apple’s stubbornness here is Facebook. If Apple were to enable RCS messaging between iPhones and Android, the biggest losers would likely be WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, the world’s leading platforms with 2 billion and 1.3 billion users, respectively.
âI want to stress that we increasingly see Apple as one of our biggest competitors,â said Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year. âiMessage is a key part of their ecosystem – which is why iMessage is the most widely used messaging service in the United States,â according to its claim that Apple âis using its dominant position on the platformâ to weaken Facebook.
The irony for Facebook and Zuckerberg is that while the US iPhone installation base strength being the obstacle preventing WhatsApp from gaining its usual foothold, the alternative is probably worse. I don’t believe iMessage breaking down its walled garden and opening up to Google Messages would help WhatsApp in the US, but I do think it would help Google Messages there and elsewhere, changing the messaging landscape.
In his Meta PR, Zuckerberg highlighted the restrictions on the mobile operating system and the control Apple and Google have over Facebook. But it seems that as much as Facebook can be an irritant to Apple, and as much as the anti-Facebook agenda plays well in the media, the real threat to Apple is Google, and Apple seems unlikely to budge.