At its WWDC 2016 keynote, Apple announced the availability of iOS 10 public beta, the latest version of its operating system software for iPads and iPhones.
There appears to be a shift in Apple’s approach toward software security. Instead of keeping all aspects of its next-generation mobile operating system under lock and key, the company is opening up certain components to developer scrutiny. The unobscured iOS 10 kernel cache is a prime example.
Since the inception of iOS (previously iPhone OS), Apple has obfuscated the kernel to discourage illicit probing that could inherently weaken system integrity. With iOS 10, however, Apple is relaxing those strict policies by leaving the kernel cache unencrypted, a move it says optimizes system performance. As the cache does not include sensitive information, leaving it unobscured poses no risk to end users. Also, opening up the OS might help other researchers to find and report bugs, by giving everyone just as much visibility as an advanced and well-funded research team might have.
If more people report bugs to Apple, it could make it harder for law enforcement and governments to use a tactic the FBI employed to get into an iPhone used by a perpetrator of last year’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
So is Apple ultimately fighting to uphold personal privacy and civil liberties? Or is it fighting for the right to sell any kind of phone it thinks its customers want while other people deal with the negative consequences? If it’s the latter, that’s understandable; like any public company, Apple is obligated to maximize its value to its shareholders. But society is not necessarily best served by letting Apple make whatever phones are optimal for its chosen business strategy, which is to create a shiny mobile vault that people will trust with every aspect of their lives.