Lawmakers investigate claims that Apple uses privacy as a ‘shield’


Apple exec turned up at CES to talk about the importance of privacy
Apple's privacy stance is good. But is there a
Photo: Apple

Most people seem to agree that Apple’s stance on user privacy is a good one. However, U.S. lawmakers suggest it could be a cover for something else: anti-competitive behavior.

According to a new report, some legislators think Apple might be using privacy as a “shield” to get away with behavior that lets it strengthen its own position, while hurting rivals.

“I’m increasingly concerned about the use of privacy as a shield for anti-competitive conduct,” said Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. “There is a growing risk that without a strong privacy law in the United States, platforms will exploit their role as de facto private regulators by placing a thumb on the scale in their own favor.”

Is privacy a ‘shield’ used to hurt rivals?

The Washington Post report uses location tracking as one example of Apple’s behavior. It notes that:

“Historically, app makers could ask users for permission to track their location even when they’re not using the app. That was helpful for services that tracked where a user parked their car or where they may have lost a device paired to the phone. But in the new update, app makers can no longer ask for that functionality when an app is first set up — a potentially devastating blow to competitors such as Tile, maker of Bluetooth trackers that help people find lost items.”

However, while Apple blocks developers from using this user-tracker on the part of devs, it also tracks iPhone users’ locations at all times. (“Unless they go deep into Apple’s labyrinthine menu of settings,” the Post notes.)

One example of a company hurt by Apple’s approach is location-tracking company Tile. Tile’s products rely on always-on location tracking to work. But due to Apple’s changes, Tile’s app can no longer do that. Apple is currently preparing to launch its own location-tracking AirTag trackers.

An Apple spokesperson said Apple strives to make the App Store a “safe and trusted place.” House lawmakers have been meeting with Apple’s partners to discuss their worries.

Source: Washington Post