European Ad Groups Say Thanks, but ‘We Don’t Need Apple to Police the Internet’

How EU trade bodies are working to take a bite out of Apple's mobile media dominance

The competitive robustness of Apple's terms and conditions are under review from regulators. Bruno Vincent/Getty Images
Headshot of Ronan Shields

The issue of taming Big Tech has loomed large over the national agenda for years, and recently escalated to U.S. antitrust authorities filing suit against Google over its dominance of the search market.

European authorities are doing likewise, with trade bodies in France filing a complaint against Apple with competition authorities that claims its planned privacy measures in iOS 14 will irrevocably harm the mobile ad industry.   

Last month, the French chapters of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Mobile Marketing Association led a complaint filed with the Autorité de la Concurrence (ADLC) over Apple’s controversial plan to obstruct app developers from sharing mobile identifiers, known as IDFA, without specific user opt-in.   

Apple first unveiled the plans, which many feared would hamstring the $45 billion mobile advertising economy, in June as part of its iOS 14 rollout, which caught some of the industry’s largest names, including Facebook, unaware.

Stay of execution

After much back and forth, Apple granted the in-app mobile advertising business a reprieve and postponed the rollout of restrictions that would inhibit the targeting and measurement of in-app ads on iPhones. In typical fashion, however, Apple has clarified little about its plans, with the exact launch date of IDFA restrictions unknown, only stating that it would happen in “early 2021.”

Meanwhile, the limited dialog between the iPhone manufacturer and trade bodies involved IAB Europe imploring Apple to embrace its Transparency Consent Framework—an initiative to ensure the online ad industry adheres to requirements under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations.

Typically, Apple’s disclosures over its rules concerning data collection in the iOS ecosystem are a unilateral affair, with the iPhone maker offering limited guidance for its AppTrackingTransparency Framework.  

Concerns over abuse of ‘distribution monopoly’

In short, the France-based trade bodies assert that Apple’s privacy justifications just don’t add up, especially since its App Store amounts to a “distribution monopoly” of iOS apps.

The complainants assert that Apple’s prescribed wording over how app developers communicate their data collection and sharing activities are specifically designed to inhibit user opt-in.

Additionally, they assert that Apple’s iOS 14 terms and conditions amount to unfair trading conditions as the preexisting IAB Transparency Consent Framework already provides privacy requirements legislated by GDPR.

User opt-in rate is expected to be very low due to the intimidating language in the pop-up box.

“Once implemented, Apple’s conduct is likely to constitute an abuse of its dominant position in breach of EU and French competition law, as it will have both exploitative and exclusionary effects,” reads the complaint.

In a briefing with journalists on the legal arguments behind the complaint, Damien Geradin, a partner at France-based competition law firm Geradin Partners, said, “We don’t need Apple to police the internet!”

He went on to reference the consumer protection measures laid out by Europe’s elected bodies.

“Democratic choices have been made,” added Geradin. “EU vendors have developed consent management platforms which already provide iOS users with choice and control over the collection and processing of their data.”

The parties have requested the ADLC impose “interim measures,” including an order that would bar Apple from implementing its data-sharing consent box. In addition, the parties are also seeking a directive compelling Apple to engage in a discourse with the mobile advertising industry toward an acceptable solution.

The ADLC has confirmed it has received the measures and is examining the claims.


@ronan_shields ronan.shields@adweek.com Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.
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