Apple takes hard line on privacy in India | Cult of Mac

Apple takes hard line on privacy in India


Foxconn moving additional iPhone production to India as coronavirus disrupts work
Apple doesn't want to find itself in a user data scandal of its own.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Perhaps attempting to avoid its own Facebook-style privacy scandal, Apple has supposedly hit a road block in collaborating with the Indian government. The clash regards a government-approved anti-spam mobile app, which Apple was concerned violated user privacy.

And Indian regulators aren’t too happy about it!

The “Do Not Disturb” app allows individuals to report unsolicited marketing texts or calls as spam. Apple, however, initially refused to distribute it because of concern that the app lets the government access customers’ call and text message logs, which Apple claimed violated its privacy policies.

Apple appeared to have backed down somewhat at the end of last year, and as of January the Indian government was waiting some “basic clarifications” about the app before moving forward. But Apple has now told Reuters that the app “as envisioned violates the privacy policy” of its App Store.

While the idea of blocking unwanted spam calls to users is undoubtedly a positive, Apple is not a fan of the way that the app is being implemented. In particular, it’s doesn’t like any app which can access the contacts, call logos, or view text messages on a user’s handset — even when the user in question may have agreed.

Apple has said that it is happy to, “continue discussing ways they can design their app to keep users’ personal data safe.”

Today’s report suggests that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is upset by Apple dragging its feet. Boss R.S. Sharma is consulting with his legal team concerning ways that Apple could be pushed to help develop the app in a more rapid manner. “We will take appropriate legal action,” Sharma said. “This is unjust, it shows the approach and attitude of this company.”

The challenges of privacy

The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook highlights the backlash tech companies can face when they overstep the bounds of user privacy. While Apple is very protective of privacy in the U.S., things can become a more challenging when dealing with overseas markets — and particularly ones that Apple is keen to expand into.

In China, for instance, Apple has been criticized by many for allowing the transition of iCloud accounts registered in China to state-run Chinese servers. It also agreed to ban Skype and several other voice over internet protocol apps from the App Store in China because they do not comply with local law.

India is a market that Apple has taken many steps to try and expand into — including opening a local app accelerator, pushing for the right to open a flagship Apple store in the country, and even manufacturing iPhones in the country, targeted at the Indian population.

Nonetheless, in this case it seems that Apple is drawing a line that it won’t cross. While it’s unlikely that this will end in a legal battle to compel Apple to create or host an app, we’re certainly ready for a PR war of words!