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Veil Lifts Slightly on Apple’s Secret Plan to Control the Universe
03-10-2010, 09:50 PM,
Veil Lifts Slightly on Apple’s Secret Plan to Control the Universe
Veil Lifts Slightly on Apple’s Secret Plan to Control the Universe

* By Eliot Van Buskirk Email Author
* March 9, 2010 |
* 5:20 pm |
[Image: agmt-196x300.jpg]

The recently unveiled secret agreement that Apple makes iPhone developers sign supports what many have suspected all along: Apple is trying to control the universe.

Much has been written anecdotally about the Apple app-approval process, with the words “arcane” and “Kafkaesque” coming up a lot. But the letter (and crimping spirit) of the agreement was a matter of pure speculation until the Electronic Frontier Foundation had the clever idea of making one developer an offer he couldn’t refuse.

That developer was NASA — a government agency that can’t exactly keep all the secrets it might want to — and the offer was really a demand under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a nonprofit organization that defends free speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights. Senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann used an FOIA request to compel NASA to release Apple’s nondisclosure agreement for iPhone developers. Apple forces developers to sign the NDA before they can access the software development kit for the iPhone OS, which also powers the iPad.

Apple is possibly one of the most tight-lipped companies on the planet, so glimpses like this into its inner workings are rare. Making matters worse, the agreement itself bars developers from making “public statements” about the agreement’s terms, so without this confluence of events, it may never have come to light. As’s Dylan Tweney tweeted, “The first rule of the iPhone developer program is: You do not talk about the iPhone developer program.”

A full recounting of the contract is reported by Gadget Lab’s Brian X. Chen. Judging from the March 17, 2009, revision of the agreement (.pdf), Apple’s treatment of app developers doesn’t come near putting them in a virtual sweatshop, and indeed, some of them should probably thank Apple for creating the platform that made them rich.

That said, Apple exerts total control over which programs are allowed to run on the iPhone OS run by the iPhone, iPod Touch and the upcoming iPad, from the early development stage all the way to the marketplace. As I pondered last week, “Who would have thought that in 2010 everyone would be so excited about a computer that only runs software approved by its manufacturer?”

The iPod was a music player, but an iPad is a computer. As Apple migrates its App Store model from MP3 players and cellphones onto a computing platform that for some, could replace a laptop, the company’s rules about what those app developers can and can’t do are coming under increasing scrutiny. Just think about what would happen if Microsoft were to demand such authority over the software that runs on its tablet PCs. One can only imagine the backlash.

With the iPad, however, many seem willing to lock themselves in a walled garden of approved software and throw away the key. (Yes, we know, you can jailbreak the iPhone OS and install whatever you want, but that comes with its own set of trade-offs.)

Terms of service often bar signatories from all sorts of normal-seeming behavior, so the non-lawyers among us should take these with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, Apple’s choice to sell devices that only run approved software, and only software sold in its own store, could ultimately make people wonder whether the cameras in the company’s infamous “1984″ commercial may have been pointed in the wrong direction.
[Image: conspiracy_theory.jpg]

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