Apple is facing a rare $8.5 million fine for illegal data collection

The lock next to the iOS logo.

Photo: rafapress (Shutterstock)

Your iPhone protects your privacy – apparently from everyone except Apple.

France’s data protection watchdog CNIL fined Apple 8 million euros (about $8.5 million) on Tuesday for illegally collecting data from iPhone owners to target ads without proper consent.

It’s an unusual sanction for the iPhone maker, which has faced fewer legal penalties over privacy than its Big Tech rivals. Apple makes privacy a selling point for its devices, “Privacy. This is an iPhone.” on 40 meter billboards around the world. The French fine is the latest addition to Apple’s growing evidence may not be the guardian angel of privacy shows itself.

The CNIL said that Apple “failed to obtain the consent of French iPhone users (version iOS 14.6) before placing and/or writing identifiers used for advertising purposes on their terminals”. statement. The CNIL’s fine specifically calls for search ads in Apple’s App Store. French court fined the company more than 1 million dollars on commercial practices related to the App Store in December.

“We are disappointed by this decision as the CNIL recognized that how we previously served search ads on the App Store prioritized user privacy, and we will appeal,” an Apple spokesperson said. “Apple Search Ads goes further than any other digital advertising platform we know of by giving users a clear choice about whether they want personalized ads.”

You might not think of Apple as an advertising company, but that may change in the near future. According to analyst firm Insider Intelligence, Apple is doing a solid advertising business this year, which will bring in about $5.4 billion in revenue. Apple runs ads on a number of its services, including the App Store, and reports suggest the company is in talks to bring ads to Apple TV. This advertising business is expected to grow tremendously in the near future. after Facebook is crashing its ad network With a strong iPhone privacy setting in 2021, Apple is in a perfect position to expand its burgeoning advertising empire.

Many of Apple’s ads are as targeted as those from competitors that the company likes to criticize. Apple shows you those targeted ads and collects relevant information with your permission. But here Apple faced a problem with the French.

On iPhones running iOS 14.6 and below, Apple’s Personalized Advertising privacy setting is enabled by default, allowing users to seek out controls themselves if they want to protect their data. According to the CNIL, this violates EU privacy law. However, it does not pass Europe’s GDPR; the breach refers to the more obscure ePrivacy Directive of 2002.

Newer versions of the iPhone operating system fixed the problem by warning users before ad data was collected.

“Apple has finally been caught red-handed: the same companies that tell us how advanced their products and services are in terms of data protection are brazenly violating the laws in force,” said Nicolas Rieul, president of the French digital marketing Alliance Digitale. trade group, a statement. “This is misleading and deceptive advertising on a wider scale and we call on the French authorities to address it.”

As Apple ramps up its advertising business, the company is facing more scrutiny for its less-than-perfect privacy practices. A recent study found that Apple collects analytics data even when the company has its own analytics privacy setting. is turned off. Apple faces a class action lawsuit on the issue, and Alliance Digitale’s Rieul told Gizmodo that his organization is also pressuring the CNIL to take regulatory action.

Eight million euros is peanuts for a company that makes billions a year from advertising alone and is unbelievably rich. lost 1 trillion dollars in market value last year– Apple does the second company in history to do so. The fine could have been higher, but the fact that Apple’s European headquarters are in Ireland, not France, gives the CNIL a smaller target.

Still, it’s a signal that Apple could face a less friendly regulatory future in Europe. Commercial authorities are investigating Apple for anti-competitive business practices and even forcing the company to ditch the proprietary charging cable in favor of USB-C ports.

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