EFF Unveils Android-Only App, Citing iOS Dev Agreement Issues

The digital rights group said it released an Android-only app for users because Apple's developer agreement for building apps for iOS is way too restrictive.

iPhone app

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has released a new app that consumers can use on their mobile devices to quickly report digital rights issues when they spot them, but in a strange twist, the new app is not available yet in an iOS version.

The Android-only app was released without a partner app for iOS users because Apple's developer agreement, under which all iOS apps must be written for distribution in the Apple Store, has "outrageous terms" that the EFF would not adhere to, according to the group.

The EFF announced its Android-only app in a Jan. 7 statement that harshly criticized the Apple Developer Agreement, calling it "bad for developers and users alike." The EFF said it also views Apple's Digital Rights Management (DRM) terms as overly restrictive. The group said that it has been critical of the agreement "for years now" and that by taking this stand they hope to get Apple to change its policies.

The group was apologetic in its statement about the missing iOS app, but said it will only release such a version if it can work out less restrictive terms with Apple in the future.

The EFF said that the onerous conditions in the Apple Developers Agreement include Section 10.4, which prohibits developers from making any public statements about the terms of the agreement, particularly about things they might not agree with. "This is particularly strange, since the agreement itself is not 'Apple Confidential Information' as defined in Section 10.1," according to the EFF. "So the terms are not confidential, but developers are contractually forbidden from speaking 'publicly' about them."

The Apple rules also forbid developers from performing "any reverse-engineering (including the kinds of reverse engineering for interoperability that courts have recognized as a fair use under copyright law), as well as anything that would 'enable others' to reverse-engineer, the software development kit (SDK) or iPhone OS," according to the EFF.

The EFF also disagrees with Section 7.3 of the agreement, which "makes it clear that any applications developed using Apple's SDK may only be publicly distributed through the App Store, and that Apple can reject an app for any reason, even if it meets all the formal requirements disclosed by Apple," the EFF reported. "So if you use the SDK and your app is rejected by Apple, you're prohibited from distributing it through competing app stores like Cydia."

Other EFF concerns include Section 3.2(e), "which is the 'ban on jailbreaking' provision that appears to prohibit developers from tinkering with any Apple software or technology, not just the iPhone, or 'enabling others to do so,'" according to the group. It also worries about Apple's rule that it has to approve any bug fixes or security releases, which could put users and developers in peril if Apple does not approve such updates quickly, the group said. The EFF is also concerned about a provision that gives Apple the right to "revoke the digital certificate of any of your applications at any time."

The EFF said it has other concerns as well, but these are their main objections.

"Lots of developers hold their nose and sign the agreement despite these onerous conditions, and that's understandable," the group said. "The Apple App store is a huge market and hard to ignore if you want your business to succeed. And sometimes, developers have to weigh these onerous restrictions against not just their ability to survive financially, but also their ability to reach and protect users from snooping and censorship."

The EFF said it "hate(s) that we can't make that possible right now" for iOS users to take advantage of its new mobile app that will make it easier for digital consumers to report their concerns about possible digital rights violations to the EFF.

Contract restrictions aside, the final barrier was knowing that we'd be required to include a form of digital rights management (DRM)," the EFF said. "DRM means that Apple is putting technical restrictions on what you can and can't do with your app. When we create tools for EFF, we want them to be broadly available to others to use, adapt and customize. That's why we work to make our technical projects based on free software, and avoid DRM."

With all of this in mind, that's why the EFF is not releasing an iOS app that millions of iOS owners could be using, the group said.

"As we've been saying for years, 'developers should demand better terms and customers who love their iPhones should back them.' At EFF, we walk our talk. We will not agree to contract terms that we couldn't endorse for others, and we certainly will not wrap our app in DRM."

The EFF has asked Apple to revisit their terms and conditions, and the group said it hopes the company looks seriously at its request.

The group, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2015, announced in November 2014 that Cindy Cohn, who has been an advocate on digital rights issues for more than 20 years, will become the new executive director of the EFF in April 2015. Cohn, who presently serves as the EFF's legal director, will take over from longtime EFF Executive Director Shari Steele, who is relocating to Seattle with her family.