Apple warned to treat all apps equally in privacy policy changes

9 Feb 2021420 Views

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The EU’s antitrust chief has said the iPhone maker’s privacy update could become a competition issue if it tilts the playing field in Apple’s favour.

As part of its latest iOS 14 update, Apple is introducing privacy changes that are expected to affect app makers. It will give users the choice to block the Identification for Advertisers (IDFA) feature on Apple devices, which app developers use for targeted advertising.

In September last year, the iPhone maker announced that it would push the privacy update out to 2021 to give developers more time to adapt to the change. While the update has been praised by many privacy experts, there have also been critics wary of the potential for anticompetitive behaviour.

Now, in an interview with Reuters, EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager has warned Apple that it must give equal treatment to all apps on its platform.

Vestager said that while the issue is privacy-related, it could also become an antitrust issue if the update is used to tilt the playing field in Apple’s own favour.

“It can be competition if it is shown that Apple is not treating its own apps in the same way,” she told Reuters.

App tracking transparency

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IDFA is used by many developers to track ad performance across devices and target users with specific campaigns. The new Apple update will mean advertisers will need to seek permission to access a user’s unique identification code.

App developers will also need to make it clear to users what data they use and how it is tracked in their App Store page.

Facebook has been one of the loudest critics of the change. In December 2020, the social media giant wrote a blog post criticising the update, claiming that Apple is behaving anticompetitively “by using their control of the App Store to benefit their bottom line at the expense of app developers and small businesses”.

Facebook also took out full-page newspaper ads condemning the privacy update. Google also announced in January that it will stop using a tool from Apple that allows for personalised ads in iPhone apps such as Maps and Youtube, avoiding the new tracking warning altogether.

At the end of January, Apple published a blog post discussing the company’s privacy practices to mark Data Privacy Day. It stated that a feature called the privacy nutrition label will require every app, including its own apps, to give users a summary of the developer’s privacy practices.

It also referenced the new privacy update. Named App Tracking Transparency, Apple said it will “require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies. Under Settings, users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track and make changes as they see fit.”

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com