iPhone tracking flaw could see Apple fined $6.3 million for breaking its own privacy rules

iPhones on a desk
(Image credit: Joe Keller / iMore)

Apple could find itself on the receiving end of a $6.3 million fine if France decided that it illegally collected iPhone user data to allow it to target ads better.

The issue surrounds a flaw on iOS 14 that allowed Apple to collect information and run targeted ads based on that data, all while forcing third-party apps to ask for permission to do the same thing. However, Apple didn't begin asking for permission for its native apps and services to do so until iOS 15.

It's argued that Apple broke European law by not allowing users to opt-out of the data collection.

Apple tracker

Apple's App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature allows users to choose not to let apps track their actions between apps and websites, but no such feature was available to prevent Apple from doing so. That's what Francois Pellegrini, advisor to the French data protection authority's sanction body, alleges.

According to Reuters, Pellegrini looked into the situation following a complaint by France Digitale, a lobby group representing the country's digital entrepreneurs.

"France Digitale argued then that while iPhone owners were asked under iOS 14 whether they were ready to allow installed mobile apps to gather a key identifier used to define campaign ads and send targeted ads, default settings allowed Apple to carry its own targeted ad campaigns without clearly asking iPhone users for their prior consent," the report points out.

However, Gary Davis, Apple's head of privacy, argues that the "absence of any seriousness to the breach" means that the fine shouldn't be quite so high. Davis also requested that the details of the fine not be made public.

This will all be very interesting news for Meta, the company that was hit so hard by Apple's launch of ATT. The feature meant that Meta could no longer receive the data points it needed to ensure its targeted ads would be successful, causing it to lose vast sums of money as a result.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.