For years now, Apple’s earned a reputation for being possibly the only major tech company with a semi-decent set of privacy practices. But a new complaint lobbed against the company alleges that some of Apple’s more recent moves are less about privacy and more about gaining a leg up on its competitors — a claim Apple quickly rejected.
That’s according to French lobbying group France Digitale, which told Bloomberg that it was filing a complaint with the country’s data authority — the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, or CNIL for short — about Apple’s own targeted advertising business. According to the lobbying group, which pushes the interests of startups and venture capitalists, in spite of the Cupertino giant’s recent mandate requiring third-party developers to glean user consent before tracking and targeting them, Apple’s own targeted ad-serving systems do that by default, no consent needed.
An Apple spokesperson told Bloomberg in a statement that the allegations being made by France Digitale are “patently false,” and pretty much boil down to “a poor attempt by those who track users to distract from their own actions.”
While targeted advertising might not be something we think about when we hear the word “Apple,” the company does, in fact, does have its own targeted ad setup across people’s iPhones and iPad’s. These ads get specifically served within the App Store, on Apple News, or — weirdly enough — within Apple’s dedicated Stocks app.
Per Apple’s own privacy policies, serving ads across these different services does require a bit of “contextual information” about your Apple account, like your device type, what language you have your device set to, or your mobile carrier.
Apple’s own targeted ad business isn’t talked about much — not even by Apple. In a lot of ways, this makes sense; the company is currently in a pretty heated battle with other giants in the adtech industry, most notably Facebook, over some of its not-so-ad-friendly updates to iOS 14. One of the core tenets of the mobile operating system is a feature known as App Tracking Transparency (or ATT for short) that you can read all about here. In a nutshell, ATT requires third-party apps like Facebook’s to ask permission from users before tracking them across the different apps and services they use.
But as France Digitale’s complaint claims, Apple’s own ad-serving systems don’t need to oblige by these ATT provisions, letting Apple track and target iOS users by default — no permission needed. The lobbying group summed it up by telling Bloomberg that iOS users are “insufficiently informed about the use and the processing of its personal data.”
However, as Apple pointed out, its own ad-serving systems aren’t geared to track users across multiple apps, which is the behaviour that ATT was designed to curb in the first place. Instead, the company says that Apple’s Personalised Ads are targeted based on broad categories, like the country or city they live in, their age, or gender. Apple also lets users directly tamper with the company’s ability to serve these sorts of personalised ads directly within their iPhone’s settings.