A group led by privacy advocate Max Schrems yesterday filed complaints with German and Spanish data protection authorities over Apple Inc’s online tracking tool, alleging that it allows iPhones to store users’ data without their consent in breach of European law.
It is the first such major action against the US technology group in regard to EU privacy rules.
The Californian tech giant has said it provides users with a superior level of privacy protection.
The company had announced that it would further tighten its rules with the launch of its iOS 14 operating system this autumn, but in September said it would delay the plan until early next year.
The complaints by digital rights group Noyb were brought against Apple’s use of a tracking code that is automatically generated on every iPhone when it is set up, the so-called identifier for advertisers (IDFA).
The code, stored on the device, allows Apple and third parties to track a user’s online behavior and consumption preferences — vital for the likes of Facebook Inc to be able to send targeted ads that would interest the user.
“Apple places codes that are comparable to a cookie in its phones without any consent by the user. This is a clear breach of European Union privacy laws,” Noyb lawyer Stefano Rossetti said.
Rosetti referred to the EU’s e-Privacy Directive, which requires a user’s prior consent to the installation and use of such information.
Apple’s planned new rules would not change this, as they would restrict third-party access, but not Apple’s.
Apple accounts for one in every four smartphones sold in Europe, Counterpoint Research said.
The claims were made on behalf of an individual German and Spanish consumers, and handed to the Spanish data protection authority and its counterpart in Berlin, said Noyb, a privacy advocacy group led by Austrian Schrems that has successfully fought two landmark trials against Facebook.
In Germany, unlike Spain, each federal state has its own data protection authority.
Rossetti said the action was not about high fines, but rather aimed at establishing a clear principle whereby “tracking must be the exception, not the rule.”
“The IDFA should not only be restricted, but permanently deleted,” he said.
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