The Showtime series 'Super Pumped' illustrated the depths that a developer would go to get around Apple's Privacy Policies
Who hasn't heard about Apple's strict Privacy Policies? These policies have aggravated some of the heavyweights in the industry including Facebook. Many of their ad-based revenue streams have been hurt substantially. Last week we posted a report titled "While Google pushed the virtues of Privacy at I/O 2022, Texas is suing Google over their Private Browsing mode not being Private & more." In the report we once again presented Apple's latest ad titled "Privacy on iPhone | Data Auction."
Then on Friday I stumbled on the Showtime series titled "Super Pumped" – The Battle for Uber." It was one of the best series that I've seen in some time. If you're in the tech industry at any level it's a must see. What made it great for me, was seeing how Uber plotted to work around Apple's Privacy Policies so as to be able to spy on their customers even after the ride ended.
It also delved into how Uber's savvy software engineering team used secret code to beat municipal pro-taxis policies that weighed against them (Project Greyball) and how they spied on their competitors at the code-level of their respective apps.
In light of antitrust bodies in the U.S. and Europe setting out to force Apple to accept sideloading, this was an interesting show. In July 2021 the EU's Margrethe Vestager warned Apple against using privacy and security concerns to fend off competition on its App Store. This was echoed by Amy Klobuchar in the U.S. But if sideloading is forced on Apple, who will be checking 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 about this, but only time will tell if the EU is pushing sideloading apps so as to allow European companies to side step Apple's privacy policies at will. Will the EU have compliance teams studying every app in a timely manner?
The depths of deceitfulness by Uber was a perfect example of what companies are willing to devise in order to get around Apple's privacy rules and collect data on customers and their competitors.
The parts about Apple in the Showtime series came in to sharp focus starting in episode #4 titled "Boob." At the 12:50 minute mark, Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick is told that Apple had yet approved an important Uber app update after 9 days. Uber was losing $4 million/day that the app wasn't updated. The head of Uber's engineering team suspected that Apple had discovered their secret code that blatantly broke Apple's Privacy Policies.
Kalanick rudely confronted Apple's executive Eddie Cue at an industry event a day or two later about their app's approval delay. Cue walked away without answering Kalanick. The scene shifts to a special presentation by Google the next morning wherein we see Google demonstrate an autonomous vehicle and hinting that they may be eying the ride-hailing industry, Kalanick see's this and freaks out (a little more on this later).
At the 42: 35 minute mark we see Eddie Cue ream out Kalanick and his team for breaking "dozens" of App Store rules, calling them an "abomination" for following their customer's home and beyond. Cue demands a rewrite or threatens to erase Uber.
After the call, Kalanick tells his engineering team to play by the rules and fix the app to get it approved pronto. At the 58:03 minute mark Kalanick is seen privately meeting with his top software engineer seeking a way to fool Apple's compliance team. The engineering lead tells Kalanick that he could set up a geofence around Apple's Cupertino Headquarters so that the compliance team wouldn't be able to see what Uber was doing outside the geofence. In the short term, the deception held and app update was approved to the delight of Uber's board.
(Geofence – Series Screenshot #1– Click on image to Enlarge)
(Geofence – Series Screenshot #2– Click on image to Enlarge)
Unfortunately for Uber, one of Apple's Store App Compliance Engineers took his MacBook home in Blossom Valley, 15 miles from Apple's HQ, far enough that it triggered an alert exposing the geofence deception. Cue calls Kalanick at home and at the 4:00 minute mark of Episode 5 titled "The Charm Offensive" he's told to attend a meeting with Tim Cook the next morning.
During the meeting, Apple's CEO Tim Cook makes it clear that Uber is in trouble. They wait patiently for Kalanick to respond. In the screenshot below, we see in Kalanick's head that he's trying to find a way to explain the companies deceptive practices to get around Apple's privacy rules. The choices swimming in his head was creatively depicted as shown in the screenshot below: Misdirect, Lie, Half Truth or Truth.
(Click on image to Enlarge)
Kalanick decides to open his defense by blaming dirty tricksters in China who were hurting Uber. In that excuse he assigns part-blame to Apple for killing outside access to device signatures that "blinded" Uber in finding the counterfeiters who were out to hurt the company. Uber's software team had to quickly devise code to work around Apple's move to kill device code signatures. Their quick software workaround allowed Uber to target their enemies with precision.
In the big picture, Uber's software engineers had used their savviness to outsmart taxi commission boards so that Uber could simply exist and used 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 that it was his duty as CEO to do whatever it took to win – especially in China.
While Cook decides to allow the Uber app to move forward with changes, he then hits Kalanick with a nightmare reality. Cook made if crystal clear that Uber was finished in China. He added Apple was going to invest in Didi Chuxing – and they did as we reported on back on May 13, 2016.
Then the series claimed that Cook took the one gigantic step further by threatening Kalanick that Apple would go after Uber in every market they were in if they stepped out of line once again.
Instead of working with Uber to make one of their developers a winner in China, Apple sought to wipe out Uber. I have to admit that was a bit of an eye-opener, if true. It was thought then and even now that Apple's autonomous vehicle Project Titan envisions China's mass ride-hailing market as a starting point.
Though in the end, learning about Uber's depth of trying to deceive Apple's privacy practices made Apple's case that antitrust bodies just don't get how far industry players will go to get access to their user's data and sell it for a profit. That's exactly what Apple's latest ad strongly suggests. Without the App Store's compliance team, who will protect the privacy of smartphone user's if sideloading is allowed?
If you have Showtime, then be sure to check out the series 'Super Pumped' The Battle for Uber as it's really an interesting tech story. And if you don't have Showtime … well, I think you'll figure out what to do on your own.