German Watchdog Goes After Apple Over Privacy

Germany’s competition watchdog has launched a probe into Apple’s privacy rules, fearing that the company’s move to clamp down on user-tracking could have anti-competitive effects.

Bundeskartellamt chief Andreas Mundt said Tuesday that Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework, which was introduced in April 2021 and establishes preconditions for user-tracking by third-party apps, could be abused to give a leg up to Apple’s own services.

At the heart of the matter are concerns that the US tech giant’s rules obstruct third-party apps from accessing data used for targeted advertising, while not limiting Apple’s ability to obtain that same data.

“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,” Mundt said. “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.” Apple refuted the cartel office’s claims Tuesday and touted the benefits of its privacy-preserving approach.

“ATT does not prevent companies from advertising or restrict their use of the first-party data they obtain from users with their consent,” an Apple spokesperson said. “These rules apply equally to all developers — including Apple — and we have received strong support from regulators and privacy advocates for this feature.”

Germany’s efforts follow scrutiny of Apple’s ATT framework by both the French and Polish competition authorities and are based on new competencies that the Bonn-based regular was given as part of last year’s competition reform for digital markets. An investigation was launched in June last year to determine Apple’s significance for competition across markets as part of the new rules.

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