Privacy activist files complaints against Apple's tracking tool

Alonzo Simpson
November 16, 2020

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.

Noyb's complaints were brought against Apple's use of a tracking code that is automatically generated on every iPhone when set up, the so-called Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA).

"The IDFA should not only be restricted, but permanently deleted", said Rossetti.

Noyb claimed the way Apple tracks iPhone users for advertising purposes is unlawful, because the tech giant doesn't obtain their consent first.

Apple was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Business Insider.

It said its aim was to protect the privacy of its users and that the latest release of its iOS 14 operating system gave users greater control over whether apps could link with third parties for the purposes of targeted advertising.

App developers have historically used IDFA to help target users with ads and track the performance of ads across different devices.

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The latest complaints by Noyb are based on an old European Union law regulating firms' use of cookies and other tracking devices.

The code, stored on the device, makes it possible to track a user's online behaviour and consumption preferences - vital in allowing companies to send targeted adverts.

NOYB is now also reviewing a similar tracking system being used by Google. Apple announced in June it was going to roll out a new feature with its iOS 14 update that would show users the data their apps are collecting - such as location data, financial information, and browsing history - and ask them to opt into having that data collected, rather than have it collected by default. "We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right", he said in a speech in Brussels in 2018.

The iPhone tracker breaches the EU's e-Privacy Directive "because the tracker is very similar to the cookie. and because Apple is not seeking any consent, we think that if the company is violating article 53 as implemented in Spain and Germany", said Rossetti.

Rossetti said the complaints aren't based on the recent General Data Protection Regulation law and won't require involvement from the Irish data-protection authority which handles most European privacy issues involving Apple.

Rosetti said the intent was to achieve faster results. "In other words, we are trying to avoid endless procedures like the ones we are facing in Ireland", he said. It has wrangled with Facebook over whether the tech giant will have to stop sending European Union data back to the United States altogether.

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