French ruling coming Wednesday could trip up Apple’s online ad changes

French ruling coming Wednesday could trip up Apple’s online ad changes
Apple Inc. is set to be handed a preliminary decision from France’s antitrust authority after proposed changes to the way it collects iPhone users’ data sparked outrage among online advertisers.

Wednesday’s announcement could include an order for Apple to enter into talks with ad firms or even a demand for the U.S. tech giant to temporarily freeze its plans, according to people familiar with the case, who asked not to be named because the process isn’t public.

The French authority hasn’t concluded its probe and won’t announce fines or any final ruling on Apple’s planned iOS 14 software update, the people said.

The move will come a day after CNIL, the French privacy regulator, said it is examining allegations that Apple’s personalized advertising feature violates European Union privacy rules.

Apple declined to immediately comment on the upcoming antitrust decision, referring to an earlier statement on the investigation. The French competition authority also declined to comment on the content of the announcement.

Online advertising has attracted intense scrutiny from regulators in recent months as both Apple and Google roll out initiatives to curb user tracking and as a result, they say, improve personal privacy. Advertisers complain that losing the ability to track how ads prompt purchases will devastate ad revenue and give more control to online platforms.

Advertisers have asked the French competition authority to call Apple into talks with the industry over its plans for users to tick a box to consent to data collection for its so-called identification for advertisers, or IDFA service on the iOS 14 software release due this year. App developers have historically used IDFA to help target users with ads and track the performance of ads across different devices.

On the privacy front, a lobbying group representing startups and venture capital firms, complained that Apple’s personalized advertising feature — which shows ads in the App Store, Apple News, and the Stocks app — is based on users’ data, but doesn’t seek consent before sending targeted ads.

Users are “insufficiently informed” about the use and the processing of their personal data, the group, France Digitale, wrote in a complaint submitted last week to CNIL, which was seen by Bloomberg News and confirmed by the privacy regulator.

CNIL said the privacy investigation could lead to requests for Apple to make adjustments to its system, become an in-depth probe with CNIL imposing sanctions or be dismissed.

Apple pointed to its previous comments on the privacy allegations, which it described as “patently false” and said “privacy is built into the ads we sell on our platform with no tracking.”

Regarding the antitrust case, Apple said in a previous statement that “with iOS 14, we’re giving users the choice whether or not they want to allow apps to track them by linking their information with data from third parties for the purpose of advertising, or sharing their information with data brokers.” It said it had “received strong support from regulators and privacy advocates for this new feature.”
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