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What you need to know

  • An antitrust complaint has been lodged against Apple in France.
  • A group of publishers and advertisers says new privacy measures will make it harder to track users.
  • They claim the move is anti-competitive.

A new report says a group of publishers and advertisers in France has filed a complaint against Apple over claims that its new privacy measures, which will make it harder to track users, are anticompetitive.

According to The Wall Street Journal

Advertising companies and publishers have filed a complaint against Apple Inc. with France's competition authority, arguing that privacy changes the smartphone maker plans to roll out are anticompetitive.

Starting in early 2021, Apple's operating software will require apps to get opt-in permission from users to collect their advertising identifier, a key number used to deliver targeted ads and check how ad campaigns performed.

The complaint has been filed by a group of trade associations, which claim that "few users will agree to be tracked", making it much harder for advertising companies to sell personalized ads. Whilst companies like Facebook have previously kicked up a stink about the move, WSJ notes this is the first formal legal challenge to the measure on antitrust grounds. From the report:

"At the highest level, this is a novel case—a truly important case—because it deals with the use of privacy as a sort of fig leaf for anticompetitive conduct," said Damien Geradin, the competition lawyer representing the coalition of industry groups, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau France. "We think that this is the sort of thing that will arise increasingly in the future."

A new privacy feature in iOS 14 will ask users whether they would like to be tracked by companies so they can be shown personalized ads. One survey cited in the report says 85% of respondents indicated they would choose no if given the option.

According to the report, the trade group is seeking interim measures akin to an injunction to stop the move whilst the larger antitrust complaint is investigated. Apple has already delayed the move following pushback from big companies like Facebook.

The report notes that companies are worried they won't be able to charge as much to show ads to iPhone users who haven't agreed to the tracking, likely because it will be impossible to target users in the same way they did previously, making them less effective and reducing their value.

The crux of the antitrust matter is that permissions will not apply to adverts run by Apple, the report claims that estimates suggest this could generate Apple $3-$4 billion in 2020 on the back of personalized ads shown in the app store and on Apple News. An Apple spokesperson said this didn't count because Apple doesn't share the data with other companies and that the rules "apply equally to all developers - including Apple."