EU law will leave your iPhone at increased risk, Apple warns ahead of major change in iOS 17.4

apple iphone 13 pro pictured facing down on a red table

Apple has warned about new dangers that could plague iPhone owners in Europe because of seismic changes coming in iOS 17.4 to comply with the EU's Digital Markets Act (DMA)

Aaron Brown

By Aaron Brown

Published: 03/03/2024

- 05:30

European Union's Digital Markets Act could open the floodgates to apps that distribute pornography, encourage tobacco or vape use, or streamers that contain pirated content, Apple has cautioned

  • EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) will come into effect on March 7, 2024
  • Apple will release iOS 17.4 with seismic changes to comply with the law
  • For the first time, iOS users can download apps from alternative app stores
  • Apps that wouldn't be approved by Apple could be available to install
  • Apple published a whitepaper that warns of increased risks to iPhone owners
  • The US firm says it will scan all iOS apps for malware and other threats
  • But it will “not be able to protect users in the same way”.
  • Microsoft has hinted at plans to launch an alternative games-only store for iPhone
  • Fortnite will return to iPhone with introduction of Epic Games mobile store
  • Changes only apply to 27 EU member states, but UK misses out

Using an iPhone in mainland Europe will come with increased risks because of seismic changes to the way iOS apps are distributed to comply with new EU competition laws, Apple has warned.

The incoming Digital Markets Act (DMA) will come into effect on March 7, 2024. The European Union law requires vast multinational technology companies to break open previously closed ecosystems to give device owners more choice.

To comply, Apple will be required to allow iPhone owners to download apps and make purchases from outside of its App Store. Until now, iPhone owners have only ever been able to install apps and games from the App Store, which is preinstalled on all iOS devices.

This allows Apple to vet all software before it's available to download on iPhones worldwide, helping it to maintain an iron grip on security, unapproved features, and taste.

Not only that but purchases made in the App Store must be done through Apple’s payment system — an approach known as a “walled garden”, which Apple argues allows it to keep users and their data completely secure.

The DMA will also force Apple to allow alternative payment methods too.

apple co-founder steve jobs holding the original iphone on-stage in 2007

iPhone users have only ever been able to download, install and update their iOS apps from the Apple SApp Store since the introduction of the marketplace back in July 2008


The biggest changes coming with iOS 17.4 ~

  • iPhone owners will be able to download iOS apps from outside of the App Stores, including direct from websites or new app marketplaces run by competitors, like Microsoft
  • Apple will let users set Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox and other popular apps as the default web browser on their iPhone
  • Developers can use an engine other than Apple's own WebKit to build web browsers for iPhone, which could lead to Chrome and Firefox releasing new versions with their own technology for rendering sites — potentially offering faster performance
  • App creators will be able to access the NFC chip inside the iPhone for wireless payments for the first time, enabling tap-to-pay transactions that don’t rely on Apple Pay

Ahead of the unprecedented changes, which will be bundled as part of the iOS 17.4 update, Apple has published a new whitepaper that lays out how it'll introduce new features to protect users from cyber attacks, malware and other risks under the new system.

However, despite its efforts, Apple said it cannot eliminate the increased risks under EU law.

In its new report, Apple warns that because it's being required to change its “uniquely successful approach” used to “protect users’ security and privacy”, it will “not be able to protect users in the same way”.

“To keep offering users the most secure, most privacy-protecting, and safest platform — in line with what users expect from Apple — we’ve designed and implemented new safeguards that will help to protect and inform them,” the whitepaper says.

“While the changes the DMA requires will inevitably cause a gap between the protections that Apple users outside of the EU can rely on and the protections available to users in the EU moving forward, we are working tirelessly to make sure iPhone remains the safest of any phones available in the EU by reducing the risks introduced by these necessary changes—even though we cannot entirely eliminate such risks.”

a grey background with three icons for iOS, the safari web browser, and the apple app store  iPhone owners could soon be able to download and install apps from third-party app stores not managed by Apple as part of a massive shift triggered by the EU's Digital Markets Act legislation on March 7, 2024 APPLE PRESS OFFICE

Under its new system, Apple says it will introduce a new baseline review programme for all apps, regardless of whether they will be distributed via the App Store or an alternative app marketplace.

Apple says it will electronically sign each app that is distributed in the EU once it has been checked and cleared for “known malware and security threats, generally functions as advertised, and doesn’t expose users to egregious fraud”.

However, the company confirmed that its new checks will not cover the content within iOS apps. That means content that would never be sold in the App Store will appear within its iPhone operating system in the EU.

“This means Apple won’t be able to prevent apps with content that Apple wouldn’t allow on the App Store — like apps that distribute pornography, apps that encourage consumption of tobacco or vape products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol, or apps that contain pirated content (or that otherwise steal ideas or intellectual property from other developers) — from becoming available on alternative app marketplaces,” the whitepaper published by Apple cautions.

But the US tech giant did pledge to “ongoing monitoring” of apps to detect and remove any malicious applications it uncovers.

Under the new system in the EU, Apple will also begin showing users pop-up, on-screen alerts when they are about to leave the App Store to download an app or make a payment outside of the store and Apple’s payment system.

The Californian company said this would allow users to make “educated choices about the apps they download”.

Apple said it had been contacted by consumers, governments and government agencies both inside and outside the EU asking for assurance and clarity on the safety of the platform under the new rules.

A number of other tech firms have previously accused Apple of maintaining a monopoly of the app market by not allowing rival app marketplaces or payment methods on the App Store. The European Commission argues that the DMA offers more and better services for consumers to choose from, and increases opportunities to switch providers if they so wish, which will ultimately lead to fairer prices and boost innovation in the sector.

Changes to comply with the European Union's DMA will enable rival companies, including Google, Amazon, Epic, Microsoft, and more to launch separate digital storefronts to distribute apps and games on iPhone.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Microsoft's gaming chief Phil Spencer previously confirmed plans to launch a separate store on iOS for mobile games when the Digital Markets Act legislation comes into effect. Epic Games has already confirmed plans to restore its best-selling Fortnite mobile game to iPhone and iPad in Europe later this year — with the introduction of its own Epic mobile games store.

Developers can download the first iOS 17.4 beta now to begin testing the changes in preparation for the roll-out in early March 2024. Apple will be bringing its sweeping changes to 27 European Union member states ahead of the EU’s Digital Markets Act going into effect March 7, 2024.

For now, UK-based iPhone owners will be subject to existing rules. Likewise, iPhone owners in the United States of America, Canada, Asia, and other markets will not see any changes for now.

Additional Reporting By Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent

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