Who hasn’t heard of Apple’s strict privacy policies? These policies have aggravated some of the industry heavyweights, including Facebook. Many of their advertising-based revenue streams have been significantly impacted. Last week, we published a report titled “As Google Pushed Privacy Virtues at I/O 2022, Texas Sues Google for Non-Private Private Browsing Mode and More.” In the report, we once again featured Apple’s latest advertisement titled “Privacy on iPhone | Data Auction”.
Then on Friday I came across the Showtime series called “Super Pumped” – The Battle for Uber.” It was one of the best series I’ve seen in a while. If you’re in the entertainment industry technology at any level, it’s a What appealed to me was seeing how Uber conspired to circumvent Apple’s privacy policies so they could spy on their customers even after the ride was over.
He also delved into how Uber’s savvy software engineering team used the secret code to beat pro-cab city policies that weighed against them (Project Greyball) and how they spied on their competitors at the code level of their respective applications.
In light of the antitrust bodies in the US and Europe deciding to force Apple to accept sideloading, it was an interesting sight. In July 2021, EU’s Margrethe Vestager warned Apple against using privacy and security concerns to fend off competition on its App Store. This was picked up by Amy Klobuchar in the United States. But if sideloading is forced on Apple, who will check the code of these apps to see if they’re spying on users and collecting data they shouldn’t? There’s a lot of theory on this, but only time will tell if the EU is pushing sideloading apps to allow European companies to circumvent Apple’s privacy policies at will. Will the EU have compliance teams that will investigate each application in a timely manner?
The depths of Uber’s deception was a perfect example of what companies are willing to devise to circumvent Apple’s privacy rules and collect data on customers and their competitors.
The parts about Apple in the Showtime series were developed from episode #4 titled “Boob”. At 12:50 p.m., Uber CEO Travis Kalanick learns that Apple still approved a major update to the Uber app after 9 days. Uber was losing $4 million a day because the app wasn’t updated. Uber’s engineering team leader suspected Apple of discovering his secret code which flagrantly violated Apple’s privacy policies.
Kalanick bluntly confronted Apple executive Eddie Cue at an industry event a day or two later about their app’s delayed approval. Cue walked away without answering Kalanick. The scene cuts to a special Google presentation the next morning in which we see Google demonstrating an autonomous vehicle and hinting that they may be watching the ridesharing industry, Kalanick sees this and freaks out (a bit more on this later).
At 42: 35 minutes we see Eddie Cue slam Kalanick and his team for breaking “dozens” of App Store rules, calling them an “abomination” for tracking their client’s home and beyond. Cue demands a rewrite or threatens to erase Uber.
After the call, Kalanick tells his team of engineers to play by the rules and fix the app to get it approved right away. At minute 58:03 Kalanick is seen meeting privately with his top software engineer looking for a way to fool Apple’s compliance team. Engineering manager tells Kalanick he could set up a geofence around Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino so the compliance team couldn’t see what Uber was doing outside the geofence . In the short term, the disappointment held and the app update was approved much to the delight of Uber’s board.
(Geofence – Series #1 screenshot – Click image to enlarge)
(Geofence – Series #2 screenshot – Click image to enlarge)
Unfortunately for Uber, one of the Apple Store app compliance engineers took his MacBook home to Blossom Valley, 15 miles from Apple headquarters, far enough to trigger an alert revealing the geofence deception. Cue calls Kalanick home and 4:00 minute mark from Episode 5 titled “The Charm Offensive” he is told to attend a meeting with Tim Cook the next morning.
During the meeting, Apple CEO Tim Cook made it clear that Uber was in trouble. They wait patiently for Kalanick to respond. In the screenshot below, we see inside Kalanick’s head as he tries to find a way to explain the companies’ deceptive practices to circumvent Apple’s privacy policies. The choices swimming in his head were creatively represented, as seen in the screenshot below: Misdirect, Lie, Half Truth, or Truth.
(Click on image to enlarge)
Kalanick decides to open his defense by blaming the dirty crooks in China who were hurting Uber. In that apology, he assigns some of the blame to Apple for killing outside access to device signatures that “blindsided” Uber into finding the counterfeiters who wanted to harm the company. Uber’s software team had to quickly design code to circumvent Apple’s decision to remove code signatures from devices. Their fast software solution allowed Uber to target its enemies with precision.
All in all, Uber’s software engineers had used their know-how to outsmart taxi commission boards so that Uber could just exist and use software in apps to break the rules in order to beat their competitors at every turn.
Kalanick went on to say that he had to do whatever it took for Uber to survive and thrive and it was his duty as CEO to do whatever it took to win, especially in China. .
As Cook decides to allow the Uber app to go ahead with changes, he then hits Kalanick with a nightmarish reality. Cook has made it clear that Uber is over in China. He added that Apple was going to invest in Didi Chuxing – and they did as we reported on May 13, 2016.
Then the series claimed that Cook took a giant step by threatening Kalanick that Apple would go after Uber in every market they were in if they got out of line again.
Instead of working with Uber to make one of their developers a winner in China, Apple sought to destroy Uber. I have to admit that was a bit of a revelation, if true. It was thought then and even now that Apple’s Project Titan self-driving vehicle was eyeing the Chinese mass transit market as a starting point.
Although ultimately learning how Uber tries to cheat Apple’s privacy practices has made it clear to Apple that antitrust agencies simply don’t know how far industry players will go to gain access to their users’ data and sell it for a profit. That’s exactly what Apple’s latest ad strongly suggests. Without the App Store compliance team, who will protect the privacy of smartphone users if sideloading is allowed?
If you have Showtime, be sure to check out the “Super Pumped” series The Battle for Uber because it really is an interesting tech story. And if you don’t have Showtime… well, I think you’ll find out what to do on your own.