Popular anti-tracking iPhone feature to face investigation in France
More antitrust bother for Apple.
Competition authorities in France are reportedly eyeing up an investigation into an anti-tracking iPhone feature Tim Cook once described as tremendously popular amongst users.
Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14.5, allowing users to opt out of data tracking which followed users across multiple apps and services using an IDFA identifier. It's a tool previously used by companies like Facebook to target users with specific adverts that might be of interest, but has drawn ire amongst advertising businesses and governments, now most recently in France.
Axios reports this week that the French Competition Authority is "likely to move forward soon" with an investigation into complaints in 2021 about the changes Apple made, marking "the first major government move taken globally against Apple related to privacy rule changes that upended the digital advertising world."
The body is reportedly in favor of issuing a formal Statement of Objections which "would signal to groups that issued initial complaints about Apple’s actions and Apple that the authority found evidence of illegal anticompetitive behavior in its initial review of the complaints it received."
The issue, it seems, is not necessarily related to the changes made themselves, but rather that "Apple failed to hold itself to the same ad targeting standards that it forced on its competitors because it targeted iOS users with ads from app tracking data." In short, France believes Apple isn't playing by its own rules.
Not long after its introduction, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the company had received "tremendous" feedback on App Tracking Transparency. He wouldn't be drawn on how many iPhone users had disabled it, but some research suggests the number could be as high as 96%.
iMore has contacted Apple for comment on the latest news, however in a statement last year the company responded to similar allegations from Germany. "Privacy has always been at the center of our products and features. At Apple, we believe that a user’s data belongs to them and they should get to decide whether to share their data and with whom. We have long believed in the power of advertising to connect businesses with customers—and that you can have great advertising with great privacy," an Apple spokesperson told iMore. "App Tracking Transparency (ATT) simply gives users the choice whether or not they want to allow apps to track them or share their information with data brokers. ATT does not prevent companies from advertising or restrict their use of the first-party data they obtain from users with their consent."
The company further emphasized that the rules "apply equally to all developers — including Apple —" and that it had received "strong support" from regulators and privacy advocates regarding the feature.
Introduced with iOS 14.5, ATT remains a stalwart privacy feature on all of Apple's best iPhones running iOS 16. The company will announce iOS 17 at WWDC 2023 in June, and the ever-present emphasis on privacy will likely again feature prominently.
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Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.
Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9