France's antitrust regulator to probe Apple's App Tracking Transparency policies
Apple could be facing an investigation by the French Competition Authority. The antitrust regulator wants to probe the company's App Tracking Transparency policies.
What is App Tracking Transparency in iOS?
Let's say for example you have a specific app on your iPhone, it may track your activity across apps from other developers and companies. This is usually done by tracking IDs on devices. The data obtained could then be used by the said app for advertising purposes, or shared with data brokers.
App Tracking Transparency is a very useful feature that protects the privacy of users, by blocking apps from tracking users across other apps. The feature was introduced in 2021, and is available in iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 and above. Here's how to use it.
How to stop apps from tracking you on iOS
1. Open the Settings on your iPhone or iPad.
2. Go to the Privacy & Security section, and tap on Tracking.
3. The page has a toggle at the top that says "Allow Apps to Request to Track".
4. Disable the option to automatically deny tracking requests for all apps.
Tip: While you are on the Privacy & Security page, I'd also recommend enabling the App Privacy Report. This will keep a record of all data and sensor access, and network activity of apps on your iPhone. You may want to keep an eye on it from time to time, to see if an app is misbehaving.
Why are antitrust regulators targeting App Tracking Transparency?
That's clearly a useful feature, so why are antitrust authorities upset about it. In a nutshell, App Tracking Transparency prevents impacts the revenue that advertises earn. Meta's ad revenues took a severe hit, as it lost over $10 billion. It is worth mentioning that first party apps can still track the user's activity in their own app, the privacy feature only restricts data collection from other apps.
Four advertising trade associations - IAB France, Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), SRI and UDECAM, filed a complaint against Apple in 2020 regarding App Tracking Transparency. The trade groups claimed that Apple was distorting the competition with its hold over the market, and that the iOS feature was not complying with the European Union's privacy laws. The authorities believe that the company's App Tracking Transparency did not apply to Apple's own apps. That is a valid point, none of Apple's apps prompt the user about tracking across apps.
Last year, Apple stepped up its efforts to build its own ad networks, including ads on the App Store. This could also play a role in the investigation, as such ads could bring help Apple's own ecosystem by bringing in revenue while denying the same for its rivals, so it could be seen as anticompetitive.
A report by Axios (via iMore) says that the French watchdog is prepping to issue a formal "Statement of Objections" to the four parties involved. This move could serve as a signal to them that the antitrust regulator has some evidence that could favor the complaints made against Apple, i.e. it may have some proof of illegal anticompetitive behavior by the Cupertino company.
France isn't the first Country to eye Apple's antitracking feature as a violation of competitive laws. Germany's antitrust regulator, Bundeskartellamt issued a press statement that said it is examining the App Tracking Transparency Framework (following up a prior investigation from June 2022) as it suspects these rules are favoring Apple's own ads and could be impeding other companies.
“The trade groups claimed that Apple was distorting the competition with its hold over the market”
“it may have some proof of illegal anticompetitive behavior by the Cupertino company.”
“France isn’t the first Country to eye Apple’s antitracking feature as a violation of competitive laws”
The problem here for all of us is not so much anticompetitive behavior in their competition to be the worst spying mofo, but rather privacy invading behavior from them against us.
It’s not even clear from the article that the proposed outcome is to force Apple to comply to its own antitracking rule for others, or just to eliminate those rules altogether.