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Lawmakers concerned Apple's focus on privacy could be anticompetitive

Apple's new privacy website
Apple's new privacy website (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple's focus on user privacy is being criticized by lawmakers.
  • Congressman David N. Cicilline says he's concerned it could be used as "a shield for anticompetitive behavior".
  • Apple "partners" have reportedly met with House lawmakers to discuss concerns.

A report suggests that US lawmakers are concerned that Apple's focus on user privacy may actually be a shield for anticompetitive practices.

A report from The Washington Post via 9to5Mac claims that Congressman David N. Cicilline, Democrat for Rhode Island and chair of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, says he is concerned over "the use of privacy as a shield for anticompetitive behavior."

According to the report, Cicilline is pushing for "strong" privacy laws in the United States, which would take the regulation of privacy out of the hands of big tech companies like Apple. He reportedly said:

"I'm increasingly concerned about the use of privacy as a shield for anti-competitive conduct... There is a growing risk that without a strong privacy law in the United States, platforms will exploit their role as de facto private regulators by placing a thumb on the scale in their own favor."

Apparently, Cicilline is most concerned about changes Apple made to its location services in iOS 13. Apple removed the "always allow" option from the splash screen in iOS 13. It is reported that lawmakers are concerned that Apple may have given itself access to location data denied to third-party competitors, for example, Tile. An Apple statement in response said:

"We created the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. We continually work with developers and take their feedback on how to help protect user privacy while also providing the tools developers need to make the best app experiences."

The report notes that House lawmakers are said to have met with Apple "partners" to discuss these concerns, according to people with knowledge of the meetings.

These people said that one of the topics discussed was Apple's practice of making changes to the rules that govern its App Store ecosystem in the name of privacy, while also tying the hands of competitors.

Apple has been the subject of much antitrust talk of late, both at home and abroad, however, this is the first time that location services and privacy seem to have been raised as a concern. It seems a little bizarre to portray "privacy" and "competition" as two opposite ends of a spectrum and worrying that it might be suggested that users or tech companies should have to choose between the two.

Stephen Warwick
Stephen Warwick

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.

  • If Apple was concerned with Privacy, they'd let me install something like NetGuard to block outbound access to SpyBook. They'd also let me say "allow bluetooth access THIS TIME", and force apps to work with "Sign in with Apple". Apple isn't really concerned about privacy (note the lower case) since they don't let me install apps I want. I still can't get "The Chan" off of my 7+ to put on my 11pro because they don't let me privately download whatever apps I want.
  • You basically just said, if Apple were concerned about privacy, they'd let you design the phone however you feel fit, in which case you're looking for Android. Apple are adding more security features with each release, macOS got a whole host of "Do you wish to allow this app to do this?" with Catalina. It might not be as fine-grained as you like, but it's still really good. iOS 13 made visible the fact that Facebook was unnecessarily tracking location, Facebook told Apple to change it but Apple said no, and that's a big thing. Yes Apple still has a way to go, but you must appreciate that they're heading in the right direction.
  • Privacy and Security aren't the same thing. Apple's "Do you wish to allow an app to do this?" is more of a security feature since most old people I help with their computers fall for "OMG YOU HAVE A VIRUS CALL THIS NUMBER" because fullscreen mode is terrible and should be optional, same way I chmod 000 their saved states folder to prevent the fake window from coming back after a reboot. But no, designing as I see fit there'd be a ton more I'd have them add. Mainly Facebook and Twitter wouldn't be mentioned in *ANY* of the code outside the crApp store, and would 100% be out of the settings app on day 1 because that's not private, but it's "secure" to have Zuckerberg's spyware manageable from settings. Allowing me to setup an outbound firewall is better for privacy AND security. Not every app needs to be online, and Apple is too afraid to give toggles. Case and point, I can't delete mistaken words from their dictionary, let alone disable TF out of it learning anything. On top of that, I can't stop it correcting the previous word, and it's not *AT ALL* smart since a smart keyboard would realize if I type and delete the same thing more than twice, I don't want the options it's giving me and it should offer another suggestion.
  • Privacy and security aren't the same thing but they do intertwine in many ways. I believe Facebook and Twitter only appear in the settings now if you have them installed, as that's the default place for app settings. I don't think Apple is afraid to give toggles, they give more and more toggles with each release, there's actually quite a lot of toggles, just not necessarily for privacy/security. Apple seem pretty keen on making privacy upgrades part of major iOS versions now, so those toggles could well appear in a future version of iOS. As for the smart keyboard, I can't really say much about that, I've never liked any kind of touch keyboard, I'd take a slide out physical keyboard any day. I turn off autocorrect and I've never liked any swipe keyboard as they always gets something inaccurate at some point