Apple Puts Limits on PushKit API and Some Apps Feel the Pain

Apple has made it abundantly clear that it takes customer privacy seriously. Though the company may not always live up to its own high standards, it still often finds itself on the privacy soapbox. Now, Apple has baked a change into iOS 13 that caught several messaging apps by surprise.

Apple adjusted the capabilities of the PushKit API, which was originally created to facilitate VoIP calls. The use cases for PushKit API have evolved since its addition to iOS. The raw tools allow for data collection and, more importantly, Encryption for some messaging applications.

In iOS 13, the PushKit API will no longer support data collection and encryption, and will instead be limited to VoIP calls.  This is why the developers of encrypted messaging apps, including Signal, Threema, Wickr, and Wire, find the change so alarming. Without the API's assistant, these apps will not be able to decrypt messages in the background. In other words, the apps are broken and need to find an alternative way to handle decryption. 

Apple's pursuit of privacy is actually having the reverse effect, according to Threema spokesperson Jule Weiss, who said the limitations might lead to "the opposite of the privacy goals the changes were supposed to achieve."

The change has also worried the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp, both of which rely on encryption to safeguard user privacy in their messaging apps. 

Apple, it appears, is sympathetic to the developers' concerns. 

"We’ve heard feedback on the API changes introduced in iOS 13 to further protect user privacy and are working closely with iOS developers to help them implement their feature requests," said Apple in a statement sent to The Information

Wickr VP, Tom Leavy, told MacRumors that reworking the app is a "significant engineering effort" for which the company did not plan. Other encrypted-messaging app developers are exploring other workarounds. 

Developers have until April 2020 to incorporate their changes. However, app writers who want their apps to work on iOS 13 will need to adjust to PushKit's limitations beforehand.

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