Apple’s iOS to limit VoIP API; stopping messaging apps from running in the background

iOS 13 is coming, and everyone is excited. Everyone, except developers for WhatsApp and other messaging apps as they will be forced to redevelop their software because a critical update in Apple’s privacy policy will prevent the current versions of apps from running in the background.

The small but notable change in the operating system has something to do with how third-party messaging apps are leveraging the iOS to make internet voice calls with the PushKit VoIP API. As fall, the expected release date of the iOS 13 comes, many of these processes have to change in order for users to fully maximize their use of the said applications on their iPhones and other iOS devices.

Privacy concerns drive Apple’s decision to restrict VoIP API

Apple’s decision to restrict access to its VoIP API comes partly from the growing pressure to the company, and the entire tech industry in general, to limit the access granted third-party applications and to protect user data more effectively.

In the current version of iOS, apps like Facebook and WhatsApp are freely allowed to run their calling feature in the background so calls can connect easily. However, this could also allow them to perform other unrelated tasks, like collecting data on the device.

People familiar with the matter have said that the new change in iOS authorization to applications will force developers to redesign their applications and to find a workaround on how to mitigate the impact of the new iOS update and ensure seamless service to their users.

Facebook’s WhatsApp is one of the applications that will terribly be impacted by the upcoming update to the operating system as the app relies on the VoIP API to serve internet calling to its users. In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson has this to say: “The changes to the upcoming iOS releases are not insignificant, but we are in conversations with Apple on how best to address,”

“To be clear—we are using the PushKit VoIP API to deliver a world-class, private messaging experience, not for the purpose of collecting data,” he added.

Facebook vs. Apple strife

Analysts believe that this update is a direct slam to Facebook as Apple and the social media platform has long been in conflict in relation to messaging for a plethora of reasons.

For one, Facebook has announced that it will unify the messaging system for Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp in order to keep its users loyal and engaged, and which could lead to new revenue streams around commerce and other services. However, a stronger Facebook messaging service could potentially threaten Apple’s own messaging service, the iMessage, which is a significant factor in why people keep on buying iPhones.

In 2014, when Facebook created a stand-alone app for its messaging service, Messenger, the tech giant tried to keep the technology in its main app. However, Apple found out about it and made it stop, according to Phillip Shoemaker, who until 2016 was the head of Apple’s app review team. But Messenger and WhatsApp, which allow internet voice calls, still use the feature.

“Messenger can still use [VoIP background] mode, and does,” said Mr. Shoemaker. “What they do in the background, whether it accepts calls, listen in all the time or update the content of the main app, it’s all unclear to Apple, but could be happening.”

Issues involving the use of Voice-over-IP (VoIP) to make internet calls have since been a matter of public concern. Aside from draining up the battery life of a device, which Facebook was slammed for in the past, running the VoIP API in the background has also allowed other major messaging apps like Snapchat and China’s WeChat to perform tasks in the users’ device unrelated to VoIP calling and messaging.

Apple’s iOS 13 is expected to be rolled out this fall, most probably in September, however, app developers still have until 2020 in order to fully adjust their application designs to the new operating system and address the issue of VoIP calling and running in the background. Until then, the app developers still have time to find a workaround to maintain the quality of service they provide for their users who have Apple devices, a significant market for all of them.

About the Author

Al Restar
A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama. I also own a cybersecurity blog called Zero Day.

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