Apple faces French complaint over iPhone advertising tool

  • iOS
  • Tuesday, 09 Mar 2021

France Digitale’s move comes after a group of French online advertisers filed a complaint with the country’s competition authority, asking it to halt Apple’s changes to how iPhone users’ data is collected. — Bloomberg

Apple Inc’s advertising tool used to monetise some of its own apps and services is the target of a new complaint in France.

France Digitale, a lobby group representing startups and venture capital firms, filed the complaint on Tuesday, saying that Apple’s own advertising system doesn’t seek a user’s consent for receiving targeted ads. The complaint focuses on an Apple feature called Personalised Advertising that shows ads in the App Store, Apple News, and the Stocks app, based on a user’s data.

The complaint comes as Apple is preparing to release an iPhone and iPad software update that limits how much data third-party advertising systems, such as those from Facebook Inc, can gather about users. Unlike that feature, Apple’s personalised advertising system is enabled by default. Users are “insufficiently informed about the use and the processing of its personal data”, the association wrote in the complaint to the French regulator CNIL, which was obtained by Bloomberg News.

“Apple keeps the right to choose who is a “partner” and who is a “third party” in an arbitrary manner, a quality which may change over time, without the user being informed of such a change,” France Digitale wrote in its complaint, claiming the company is seeking to use data it collects and uses.

The Apple feature is different from the App Tracking Transparency feature that has irked Facebook and others, but France Digitale alleges that Apple still has a leg up over third-parties on iPhone app-based advertising.

“The allegations in the complaint are patently false and will be seen for what they are, a poor attempt by those who track users to distract from their own actions and mislead regulators and policymakers,” Apple said in a statement. “Transparency and control for the user are fundamental pillars of our privacy philosophy, which is why we’ve made App Tracking Transparency equally applicable to all developers including Apple. Privacy is built into the ads we sell on our platform with no tracking.”

Apple also said its advertising system does not track users across apps, the practice that App Tracking Transparency is designed to limit.

“When users have Personalised Ads on, we target ads by grouping together users who share similar characteristics such as apps downloaded, age, country or city of residence, and gender into segments, so that a given campaign or set of campaigns can’t identify a given user,” according to a recent letter from Jane Horvath, Apple’s head of privacy.

France Digitale’s move comes after a group of French online advertisers filed a complaint with the country’s competition authority, asking it to halt Apple’s changes to how iPhone users’ data is collected. The group of four advertising lobbies said the changes violated European Union rules on user consent, saying Apple can still deliver personalised advertising via a default setting, holding itself to a different standard.

The French watchdog’s ruling on the advertisers complaint is expected shortly and could potentially require changes in Apple’s software update plans for users in the country. The UK’s competition authority last week said it opened a probe into Apple after complaints that its terms and conditions for app developers were anti-competition and unfair. The CMA said it would review it Apple has a dominant position in the distribution of apps on its devices in the UK.

“All our startups are regularly controlled by CNIL. It is totally abnormal that this world giant is not on the same level playing field” for privacy, Nicolas Brien, who heads France Digitale, said in an interview.

The French complaint follows the November push by Noyb against Apple. The group, founded by privacy activist Max Schrems, filed a complaint to German and Spanish privacy watchdogs, saying Apple unlawfully installed a service on its devices that helps it and apps track users’ behaviour. – Bloomberg

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