Apple accused of breaching EU privacy law by French start-up group

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, gives a keynote speech during the European Union’s data protection conference at the EU Parliament on October 24, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium.

Yves Herman | Reuters

LONDON – France Digitale, a French start-up lobby group, filed a complaint against Apple with the country’s data protection authority, claiming that the iPhone manufacturer’s iOS 14 mobile operating system may violate European Union regulations.

The campaign group with around 2,000 members filed a seven-page complaint from CNBC to the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés on Tuesday.

It argues that Apple may be collecting user data for ad tracking services without specifically asking for permission, and it is asking the CNIL to investigate. In particular, Apple believes that the “Personalized Ads” option is enabled by default on iPhones with iOS 14 installed.

Apple said the allegations in the complaint were false.

“We suspect this is a very serious breach of our privacy policy,” Nicolas Brien, CEO of France Digitale, told CNBC, adding that Apple may violate the General Data Protection Regulation of Europe and the Electronic Data Protection Directive, also known as e Privacy policy known, violated.

“Our problem here is that you don’t have a choice to agree,” said Brien. “It is activated automatically and is strictly prohibited by GDPR and e-privacy.”

An Apple spokesperson told CNBC: “The allegations in the complaint are clearly false and are being viewed for what they are. This is a poor attempt by those persecuting users to distract from their own actions and get regulators and policymakers into action To mislead. “

They added, “Privacy is built into the ads we sell on our platform without tracking. We’re sticking to a higher standard by allowing users to opt out of Apple’s limited use of initial data for personalized advertising, a feature that makes us unique. “

France Digitale has also criticized Apple for its App Store practices in the past few weeks, stating that they harm startups.

Apple only lets developers publish iPhone and iPad apps via the iOS smartphone platform. The company has a strict approval process for iOS apps and has been criticized for charging up to 30% for in-app transactions.

Last year, the EU Commission initiated antitrust investigations into Apple’s app store rules and its Apple Pay mobile wallet. Epic Games, the creator of the popular video game Fortnite, has been particularly vocal about Apple. At the time, Apple said it was “disappointing” that the European Commission was listening to “unsubstantiated complaints” from a small number of companies.

The British competition authority launched its own antitrust investigation against Apple on March 4th. The competition and market regulator said it would investigate Apple over complaints from software developers about the app store of the technology giant.

Apple said it would work with the CMA to address its concerns. “We believe in thriving and competitive markets where any great idea can flourish,” said a company spokesman earlier this month.

Different rules for big tech?

While Europe cracks down on America’s big tech firms, Brien still believes companies like Apple are getting a relatively easy ride.

He claims Apple isn’t subject to the same privacy scrutiny as French startups and other small businesses.

“We’re under constant scrutiny,” said Brien. “We need this to stop. Technical regulations shouldn’t be aimed primarily at start-ups.”

A CNIL spokesman confirmed to CNBC that the complaint had been received and that an investigation was planned.

Brien said he thinks data protection authorities in other countries may also investigate Apple if they learn of the feature France Digitale is having trouble with.

“This is something big and we think it is an extremely important case,” he said. “We’re talking about the most valuable tech company here, and if they don’t play by the rules, who else does it have to be?”

Apple has positioned itself as a company that takes privacy seriously as the neighbors of Silicon Valley, Google and Facebook.

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