The Bundeskartellamt (Germany’s Federal Cartel Office), has initiated a probe into Apple’s tracking rules and anti-tracking technology are anti-competitive and self-serving, according to a press release.
The proceedings will review Apple’s tracking rules and specifically its App Tracking Transparency Framework (ATT) in order to ascertain whether they are self-preferencing Apple or being an impediment to third-party apps. Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt, said of the proceeding:
“We welcome business models which use data carefully and give users choice as to how their data are used. A corporation like Apple which is in a position to unilaterally set rules for its ecosystem, in particular for its app store, should make pro-competitive rules. We have reason to doubt that this is the case when we see that Apple’s rules apply to third parties, but not to Apple itself. This would allow Apple to preference its own offers or impede other companies. Our proceeding is largely based on the new competencies we received as part of the stricter abuse control rules regarding large digital companies which were introduced last year (Section 19a German Competition Act – GWB). On this basis, we are conducting or have already concluded proceedings against Google/Alphabet, Meta/Facebook and Amazon.”
Apple’s App Tracking Transparency Framework, which debuted in April 2021 alongside the release of iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5, requires that all apps on iPhone and iPad ask for the user’s consent before tracking their activity across other apps. Apps that wish to track a user based on their device’s unique advertising identifier can only do so if the user allows it when prompted.
These rules apparently do not affect Apple when using and combining user data from its own ecosystem. While users can also restrict Apple from using their data for personalised advertising, the Bundeskartellamt’s preliminary findings indicate that Apple is not subject to the new and additional rules of the App Tracking Transparency Framework.
“In this context,” said the regulator, “the possibilities for Apple itself to combine data across services and users’ options regarding the processing of their data by Apple can be relevant, just like the question whether these rules may lead to a reduction of users’ choice of apps financed through advertising.”
While Apple’s new privacy rules have negatively affected many advertisers. However, the social network Facebook, which relies greatly on advertising and tracking, has been the loudest critic of Apple’s rules. Facebook says Apple’s rules impact small businesses that rely on advertising to keep business coming in.
Facebook even ran full-page ads in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, featuring the headline “We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere.”
Apple has pointed out that the requirement does not prohibit tracking, but is simply requiring explicit user consent before the tracking can take place, thus providing users with more control and transparency. Apple says tracking can be invasive, and users deserve the right to select which app permissions they grant.