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Apple’s security flaw and ad-blocking decision highlight two key technology trends
In quick succession, Apple has been subject to some perfect examples of two key current issues in the technology industry. Firstly, much of the free content on the internet is driven by advertising revenues and the long-term implications of using ad-blocking software could see the end of free content provision together with a shift to more and more online subscription services. On the flipside of this, the obtrusive use of data-heavy adverts across websites slows down internet use for consumers and can spoil the browsing experience. Secondly, the battle between hackers and security professionals is becoming increasingly complex and the creation of completely secure services appears to be something of a mirage at the moment. Both of these issues are likely to define the progress of internet businesses in the coming years to some extent.
Earlier this month, Apple decided to allow ad-blocking software extensions to Safari on iPhones and iPads. Although it was already possible to create an ad-blocking system on Apple devices, allowing the extensions to be available on the default Safari browser means that ad-blocking software could become a mainstay of surfing the internet for the majority of users. Immediate success was seen with these types of extensions with the Peace app being one of the most popular, which creates a blanket block on every advert on every website. Yet in a strange move, the developer of the Peace app – Marco Arment – pulled the app from the App Store and offered refunds for anyone who purchased the product. Arment argues that the app he developed is unfair to smaller independent firms reliant on advertising revenues and suggests that a blocking service that still allows a certain level of advertising to come through would be more equitable.
In terms of the ongoing battle between hackers and security professionals, Apple’s App Store, renowned for its high level of security in comparison to other app download platforms, has suffered its first major attack. Malware developers managed to create and distribute a malicious version of Xcode, known as XcodeGhost, which is used by app developers to create the apps that are downloaded on the App Store. Whilst XcodeGhost had been available for a while as a way to download a version of Xcode from non-US based servers in order to speed up downloads outside of the US, the actual apps created with XcodeGhost only recently managed to get through the strict clearance process for apps to be uploaded to the App Store. These apps then contained software code that had the ability to extract personal information from consumers. Companies hit by the attack included Tencent with its WeChat service, a music app from NetEase and a Chinese uber-like app called Didi Kuaidi. All of these companies have stated that no consumer information has been taken and current versions of the apps have been cleared of the XcodeGhost malware.