Germany investigates unfair advantages in Apple's anti-tracking system

Germany investigates unfair advantages in Apple’s anti-tracking system

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Facebook vs. iPhone App Tracking Transparency
There's more to App Tracking Transparency than meets the eye.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

The German government is looking into whether Apple’s App Tracking Transparency system is designed to give Apple an unfair advantage in advertising.

The Bundeskartellamt doesn’t object to the iPhone-maker blocking tracking. But the agency points out that ATT doesn’t block Apple’s own advertising tracking system.

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency might be hypocritical

The ATT privacy feature first appeared in iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 in spring 2021. It requires developers to ask for permission to use the Identifier for Advertisers tag to track users’ movements across websites and third-party apps. Users have the option to deny them access, which seems the most popular choice.

“We welcome business models which use data carefully and give users choice as to how their data are used,” said Andreas Mundt, President of the Bundeskartellamt. “We see that Apple’s rules apply to third parties, but not to Apple itself. This would allow Apple to give preference to its own offers or impede other companies.”

Third-party vs. Apple tracking

As the German agency points out, App Tracking Transparency can’t be used to block Apple’s own tracking. “While users can also restrict Apple from using their data for personalised advertising, the Bundeskartellamt’s preliminary findings indicate that Apple is not subject to the new and additional rules of the App Tracking Transparency Framework.”

ATT adds a pop-up window to third-party applications that asks users if they want to be tracked. Apple’s own tracking system is controlled in another way. iPhone and iPad users need to go to Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising and toggle off Personalized Ads to disable Apple’s own tracking system.

The Bundeskartellamt investigation into ATT will determine “whether these rules may lead to a reduction of users’ choice of apps financed through advertising.” Whether this will lead to additional actions against Apple and ATT will be determined by the conclusions of the report.