Firefox chief fumes over Apple Safari update

Mozilla's John Lilly has compared Apple's inclusion of Safari as a default add-on installation in the latest iTunes update to the way malware is distributed
Written by Marcus Browne, Contributor

Mozilla chief executive John Lilly has hit out at Apple, accusing the company of doing a disservice to Windows users everywhere by including its Safari browser as a default add-on installation in the latest iTunes update, likening the practice to the way malware is distributed.

In a recent blog post, the head of the foundation behind the Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client attacked Apple for including the option to install the browser as a pre-selected default, saying it compromises the security of all users and the entire web.

"Apple has made it incredibly easy — the default, even — for users to install ride-along software that they didn't ask for and maybe didn't want. This is wrong, and borders on malware distribution practices," said Lilly in the post.

"It undermines the trust relationship great companies have with their customers, and that's bad not just for Apple but for the security of the whole web."

"Keeping software up-to-date is hard — hard for consumers to understand what patches are for, how to make sure they're up-to-date. It's also critically, crucially important for the security of end users and for the security of the web at large that people stay current," he said.

While Lilly encouraged Apple's practice of releasing frequent updates, he objected to the option to install Safari coming pre-ticked, saying the "likely behaviour" for users would be to click the option to install both items, thus abusing the implicit trust between software makers and their customers.

"User expectations drive the industry to provide a simpler yet richer computing experience for the customer," said Andrew Walls, security research director at analyst firm Gartner. "This user demand for magical computer experiences has forced vendors to shield the user from technological complexity, which generally forces the vendors to make decisions on the user's behalf."

The Gartner analyst said the move by Apple to provide a semi-automated download of Safari as an add-on to a separate upgrade should be assessed with this in mind, as well as the ongoing context of proprietary-based PC computing.

"To an increasing extent, the PC is viewed as a platform for the delivery of licensed content. The user does not own the operating system, content or applications. As a result of proprietary hardware design, the user is even restricted in the extent that they 'own' the hardware," said Walls.

"It is not reasonable to expect vendors to regard a PC as a private space into which they may not venture," Walls added.

Lilly, however, said he believes Apple is affecting the way users see technology companies. "It's wrong because it undermines the trust that we're all trying to build with users; because it means that an update isn't just an update but is maybe something more; because it ultimately undermines the safety of users on the web by eroding that relationship. It's a bad practice and should stop," he wrote.

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