Apple’s Personalized Ads System Targeted in Privacy Complaint to French Data Regulator

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Apple’s advertising system for monetizing its apps and services is the target of a new complaint in France that has been brought against it by a lobby group representing startups and venture capital firms (via Bloomberg).

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Submitted on Tuesday to France’s National Data Protection Commission (CNIL), the complaint focuses on an Apple feature called Personalized Advertising, which shows ads in the App Store, Apple News, and the Stocks app, based on a user’s data.

France Digitale filed the complaint because it said the system doesn’t ask for the user’s permission to receive the targeted ads, which are enabled by default. Users are “insufficiently informed about the use and the processing of its personal data,” the association wrote in the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg.

“Apple keeps the right to choose who is a ‘partner’ and who is a ‘third party’ in an arbitrary manner, a quality which may change over time, without the user being informed of such a change,” France Digitale wrote, claiming the company is seeking to use data it collects and uses.

The complaint comes ahead of Apple’s planned rollout of a new App Tracking Transparency feature, which will limit how much data that third-party advertising systems can gather about users. Following the release of iOS 14.5, all apps that access an iPhone‘s ad identifier or IDFA will need to ask a user’s permission before tracking is allowed.

The upcoming feature has drawn criticism from Facebook and other advertisers who are concerned that many users will not consent to being tracked across apps for ad personalization purposes. However, App Tracking Transparency is different from Apple’s own personalized advertising system, which doesn’t track users across apps and doesn’t identify users to target its ads. Instead, it relies on the anonymous grouping of users’ shared characteristics such as apps downloaded, age, country or city of residence, and gender.

However, that hasn’t stopped France Digitale from claiming that it still gives Apple an advantage over third-parties when it comes to ‌iPhone‌ app-based advertising.

“The allegations in the complaint are patently false and will be seen for what they are, a poor attempt by those who track users to distract from their own actions and mislead regulators and policymakers,” Apple said in a statement given to Bloomberg. “Transparency and control for the user are fundamental pillars of our privacy philosophy, which is why we’ve made App Tracking Transparency equally applicable to all developers including Apple. Privacy is built into the ads we sell on our platform with no tracking.”

French Digitale’s legal action follows another complaint against Apple that was filed in October 2020 by advertising companies and publishers with France’s competition authority. That complaint argued that the enhanced privacy measures brought about by Apple’s Apple Tracking Transparency would be anticompetitive.

A ruling by the French watchdog is expected soon, and depending on the outcome, Apple could be forced to leave out the enhanced privacy feature in iOS 14.5 for users in the country.

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