Apple launches iOS privacy change, sparks antitrust issue

Apple has forged ahead with its much-anticipated iOS update, immediately triggering another complaint over changes affecting ad tracking that seems unlikely to be the last.

The iPhone manufacturer announced Monday that iOS 14.5 is now ready for download, bringing with it an array of new features including updates to the Siri digital assistant, dual SIM support for 5G connectivity, Podcasts, Apple News, support for the latest game console controllers and more.

It is of course the change to privacy controls that has raised the stress levels at multiple app and media providers, with Facebook's opposition to the move already well documented.

Not so app-ealing: As Apple's controversial app tracking technology rolls out, expect more heckling from the crowd.  (Source: Photo by James Yarema on Unsplash)
Not so app-ealing: As Apple's controversial app tracking technology rolls out, expect more heckling from the crowd.
(Source: Photo by James Yarema on Unsplash

Now, the German Advertising Federation, called ZAW, said it has filed an antitrust complaint with Germany's Bundeskartellamt (Federal Cartel Office) claiming Apple is abusing its market power and violating antitrust law with the new "App Tracking Transparency" program.

The ZAW filing represents a total of eight associations from the German media and communications industry that in turn represent media providers, online marketers, media and advertising agencies, and social and market research institutions.

This follows a filing in 2020 by four French online advertising lobby groups – IAB France, MMAF, SRI and UDECAM – with France's Autorité de la concurrence.

Although the competition authority rejected the request for urgent interim measures, it said it "decided to continue investigating into the merits of the case."

Privacy wars

The controversial App Tracking Transparency program included in the iOS 14.5 update essentially requires apps to get a user's permission before tracking their data across third-party apps or websites for advertising, or sharing their data with data brokers.

Developers will have to use a pop-up notification to seek this permission.

The ZAW filing said: "As a result of these one-sided measures, Apple is effectively shutting out all competitors from processing commercially relevant data in its ecosystem."

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"At the same time, however, the group is excluding its own (advertising) services from the planned changes and collecting considerable amounts of user data itself," the filing added.

According to Reuters, Apple has rejected their arguments, saying the new privacy framework strongly upholds personal privacy, which it described as a human right, and the European Union's privacy laws.

Erik Neuenschwander, Apple's user privacy chief, told Reuters that the impact of the new privacy control is likely to depend on how app developers implement the required pop-up notification.

He stressed that communication "is the major contribution the developer can make to making sure the user gets an informed choice."

Reuters notes that the changes only affect whether app developers share data they collect with third parties, or mix their data with outside data from third parties, to help target ads.

Apple is said to have introduced privacy "nutrition labels" to its App Store to show users what data apps collect.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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