France antitrust probe will examine application of iOS 14 tracking changes

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What you need to know

  • France is to investigate changes made to tracking and privacy in iOS 14.
  • They are seeking to determine whether Apple applies the rules less stringently to its own apps.
  • Regulators did not call for any interim measures, however, and have said the changes themselves are not unfair.

Update, June 16 (9:40 pm ET): Apple has released a statement celebrating the FCA's decision to keep privacy features in iOS 14

Apple has dodged any interim measures from French antitrust authorities but will face an investigation into whether changes made to privacy and tracking in iOS 14 were applied fairly.

The probe was announced at a press conference in Paris, Wednesday, by antitrust chief Isabelle de Silva, and reported by Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. faces a French antitrust probe into planned changes to the way it collects iPhone users' data after regulators flagged concerns with the U.S. tech giant's influence over online advertising. The investigation will "look closely" at whether Apple applied less stringent rules to itself than to other services as it makes privacy changes to curb online tracking in its forthcoming iOS 14 software update, the authority's chief, Isabelle de Silva told reporters at a Paris press conference on Wednesday. The case shows the need for fast antitrust action into technical issues, she said, promising a final ruling by early 2022 at the latest.

French authorities have received complaints against Apple over changes that will make tracking in iOS 14 an opt-in prompt required by all apps, they had called for interim measures to stop Apple from trying to make the change, which will debut publicly with the release of iOS 14.5. The authorities reportedly stated that Apple's new rules did not appear to be intrinsically unfair, but that they wanted to examine how Apple applied them, and whether they were applied consistently, or less stringently to Apple's own apps.

Apple said it was "grateful" for the authority's recognitions that the changes were "in the best interest of French iOS users", and that it looked forward to further engagement with regulators on the matter.

Separately, Apple faces a similar accusation posed by startup lobby France Digitale, which has also filed a complaint against Apple with the privacy watchdog CNIL, claiming the measures breach EU privacy rules. From that report:

France Digitale claims that these do not extend to Apple's own software and services:On the one hand, France Digitale argues, iPhone owners are asked whether they're ready to allow installed mobile apps to gather a key identifier used to define campaign ads and send targeted ads.On the other hand, Apple's default settings allow the U.S. firm to carry its own targeted ad campaigns without clearly asking iPhone users for their prior consent, France Digitale says.

Apple says the claims are "patently false" and "a poor attempt by those who track users to distract from their own actions and mislead regulators and policymakers."

Update, June 15 (11:15 pm ET) — Apple has released a statement celebrating the FCA's decision to keep privacy features in iOS 14

Apple has released a statement saying that the company was grateful that the French Competition Authority did not stop App Tracking Transparency in the interim as the investigation is ongoing.

Below is the full statement:

"We're grateful to the French Competition Authority for recognizing that App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 is in the best interest of French iOS users. ATT will provide a powerful user privacy benefit by requiring developers to ask users' permission before sharing their data with other companies for the purposes of advertising, or with data brokers. We firmly believe that users' data belongs to them, and that they should control when that data is shared, and with whom. We look forward to further engagement with the FCA on this critical matter of user privacy and competition."

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

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