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French associations file complaint against Apple for “anti-competitive conduct wrapped in privacy rhetoric”

A coalition of French associations representing the online advertising ecosystem (IAB France, MMAF, SRI, UDECAM) has filed a complaint with the French Authorities against Apple over iOS 14 changes due to be introduced early next year. The complaint also requests interim measures to prevent Apple from inflicting “serious harm” to the mobile advertising industry.

The problem dates back to June when Apple announced that, starting with iOS 14, app developers wishing to access the device’s so-called Identifier for Advertisers (“IDFA”) would need to first obtain opt-in user permission through an Apple-designed pop-up box. The requirement would apply to almost two million apps available from the App Store.

The complaint contends that the design of the pop-up does not comply with GDPR legislation. It also argues that Apple can still deliver personalized advertising to iOS users without affirmative user consent (because the default setting is opt-in). Industry observers expect a very low user opt-in rate once the changes are implemented, not least because of the oblique language deployed in the Apple pop-up box, which developers have no possibility to customize.

Apple has marketed its policy change as a win for user privacy. While the Coalition cares deeply about privacy, this case is not about privacy; it is about Apple abusing its market power to distort competition. In any event, Apple’s apparent concern for privacy fails to convince.

Coalition of French associations

The case has been taken to the French Autorité, France’s competition authority, which has already handled major cases in the tech industry. This case, however, is likely to be the first European case where a competition authority will address the issue of digital platforms invoking “questionable privacy considerations to justify anti-competitive conduct”.

There is no need for an additional pop-up box designed by Apple. Our aim is to defend and strengthen existing laws and regulations in the EU while preventing individual actors from becoming de facto privacy regulators for a whole industry.

Coalition of French associations

The coalition has immediately asked the Autorité to impose interim measures on Apple, including ordering Apple to “refrain from requiring the use of its proprietary pop-up box”. The coalition simultaneously issued a veiled threat to the tech giant, stating, “Apple could expose itself to actions for damages by the companies whose business would have been harmed by its conduct”.

Apple, in response to widespread industry criticism, announced in September that it would delay any iOS 14 tracking changes until “early next year.” The company was unavailable for comment.

The story is developing…

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