Hillicon Valley — Apple amps up App Store changes

Hillicon Valley — Apple amps up App Store changes
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Today is Thursday. Welcome to Hillicon Valley, detailing all you need to know about tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.  

Apple announced another key change to its App Store, allowing developers of apps for media content to share links to their website offering alternative payment options. 

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is on high alert for cyberattacks over the Labor Day weekend, with an official telling reporters Thursday that at least two federal agencies are prepared to tackle any incidents that come up, and urging businesses to be prepared. 

Follow The Hill’s cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@millsrodrigo) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

Let’s jump in.

Apple to let ‘reader’ apps link to outside payment options 

Apple will let apps for media content link to their own websites for users to set up and manage accounts, including subscription payments, the tech giant said Wednesday. 

The stark change in Apple’s previous rules that barred developers from linking to alternative payment options within the app will close the Japan Fair Trade Commission's (JFTC) investigation into the Silicon Valley giant, but the update will be applied globally and go into effect early next year, according to Apple’s blog post

What’s new: The change will apply to developers of “reader” apps, which Apple defends as providing subscriptions for digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music and video. 

“Because developers of reader apps do not offer in-app digital goods and services for purchase, Apple agreed with the JFTC to let developers of these apps share a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their account,” Apple said in the post. 

The latest update builds off Apple’s announcement last week of a series of App Store changes as part of a settlement agreement with app developers. The tech giant last week said it would allow developers to communicate with customers to share information about payment methods outside of the in-app system. 

The backlash: The updates, however, are not appeasing Apple's critics. The Coalition for App Fairness, an industry group that names streaming service Spotify among its members, has said the updates don’t go far enough. 

“Apple’s latest announcement seems to be another attempt to protect their App Store monopoly by dividing developers into winners and losers,” the coalition said in a statement. “Apple must end its anti-competitive practices and provide a fair digital marketplace for all.”

Read more here

Be prepared

A top White House official on Thursday underlined preparations the Biden administration is taking for any potential cyberattacks over the upcoming Labor Day weekend, urging companies to be on alert against hackers. 

Being extra safe: Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, told reporters at the White House that both the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) were monitoring for cybersecurity concerns, but stressed that there were no specific threats on the radar.

“We have no specific threat information or information regarding attacks this weekend, but what we do have is history, and in the past over holiday weekends, attackers have sometimes focused on security operation centers that may be understaffed, or a sense that there are fewer key personnel on duty as they may be on vacation,” Neuberger said. 

“Indeed, a long weekend can sometimes make attackers feel they have extra time to navigate in before they are detected,” she said. “So as the long weekend comes, we want to raise awareness, and this need for awareness is particularly for critical infrastructure owners and operators who operate critical services for Americans.”

Who’s involved: Neuberger said that the U.S. intelligence community was monitoring for threats, and that the FBI and CISA are “fully postured and fully prepared" in order to “rapidly” respond to any cybersecurity incidents. 

Read more here.


Twitter homepage and logo

Twitter will test a series of new privacy features to give users more control over who sees their content, a company spokesperson said Thursday. 

The new privacy tools will include ways for users to manage their accounts, such as the ability to edit follower lists and a tool to archive old tweets to hide them from public view. 

“We understand that there’s no one size fits all approach to privacy, so we’re excited to roll out more features and tools to empower people on Twitter to customize their experience. Our focus on social privacy is inspired by feedback we received through a series of global research studies we conducted to better understand people’s perceptions of and needs for privacy around the globe,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. 

Read more here


WhatsApp on Thursday was fined roughly $267 million by Ireland’s privacy watchdog due to alleged violations of the European Union’s (EU) data privacy rules, the largest penalty issued yet by the group since the strict 2018 regulations took effect. 

The Data Protection Commission said in a statement that it had concluded its investigation into WhatsApp’s privacy practices, which it first launched in December 2018.

The commission found that the platform violated EU data transparency rules about sharing user data with fellow Facebook-owned companies. 

Read more here


A federal judge on Thursday allowed a lawsuit to move forward against Apple centered on allegations that the Siri voice assistant violates user privacy.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the plaintiffs had done enough to allege that their privacy was violated when Siri was accidentally activated and recorded conversations.

However, he ruled that the lawsuit did not prove iPhone users suffered any economic harm from those unintentional recordings, a crucial component of proving that Apple deceptively marketed the voice assistant under California’s Unfair Competition Law.

The plaintiffs may still pursue claims under the federal Wiretap Act and California privacy law.

Read more about the case here.


An op-ed to chew on: Unsecure at any speed? 

Lighter click: You’re on

Notable links from around the web

Fbi Spy Planes Monitored A Single Suspect For Nearly 429 Hours (The Intercept / Trevor Aaronson)

TikToker makes script to flood Texas abortion ‘whistleblower’ site with fake info (Vice Motherboard / Joseph Cox)

Amazon reviews push ivermectin as COVID-19 cure, despite FDA warnings (The Washington Post / Jay Greene) 

SolarWinds hackers targeted Autodesk in latest confirmed fallout from cyber espionage campaign (CyberScoop / Jeff Stone)

One last thing: Reddit cracks down on vaccine misinformation

Reddit logo

Reddit banned an anti-vaccine forum and limited the visibility of 54 other subreddits associated with coronavirus denial after several moderators protested the platform’s approach to health misinformation.

The subreddit r/NoNewNormal was banned for breaking Reddit's rules around intentionally targeting conversations elsewhere on the platform. The community had grown rapidly since being launched in June 2020, accumulating more than 122,000 subscribers.

The rest of the forums targeted in Wednesday’s action will be removed from search or recommendations, and visitors to those subreddits will be warned that they should get medical advice from their physicians.

The new ban and restrictions come a week after dozens of moderators released an open letter calling for aggressive action against COVID-19 misinformation.

Read more about the move here.

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s technology and cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you Friday.