Apple wins first battle in French fight over iOS 14 privacy protections

France's competition watchdog said the anti-tracking updates aren't abusive.

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Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

Apple has been handed an initial victory in France over its contentious bid to implement stricter privacy changes in iOS 14. The French competition regulator today rejected a request from lobbying groups for the online advertising sector to block Apple's anti-tracking controls. First announced last June, Apple has since delayed plans to force stricter data collection transparency rules on developers. The updates would essentially require apps to ask a user's permission to access the ad-tracking ID on iOS 14. 

A referral asking for the measures to be stopped on antitrust grounds was submitted to the French competition watchdog in October. But, the regulator has sided with Apple in its preliminary decision. The Autorité de la concurrence said it did not view the new feature as an abusive practice by a company in a dominant position, effectively quashing the complainant's objections.

The watchdog — which also consulted with France's data protection regulator on the case — said it still plans to pursue an in-depth investigation of the updates to verify whether they constitute a form of self-preferencing by Apple. It will now examine whether Apple could be applying more binding privacy rules on third-parties than those it reserves for itself. 

“We can’t intervene just because there might be a negative impact for companies in the ecosystem,” said Isabelle de Silva, head of France’s competition authority, reports The Wall Street Journal. “At this stage, we haven’t found flagrant examples of discrimination.”

The decision deals a blow to businesses in the wider tech industry that are looking to halt Apple's plans over their perceived negative impact on digital ad revenue. Europe already has some of the strictest privacy laws in the world and it seems its regulators are in no mood to relinquish those data-tracking controls for citizens. 

Facebook, among the most vocal opponents to the privacy updates, has attacked Apple's policy in newspaper ads in the US. It is also preparing an antitrust suit against the iPhone maker over fears that the changes would give it an unfair advantage in the ads that are displayed on the iOS App Store and elsewhere.

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