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Apple’s ad tool faces initial probe from French privacy watchdog

FILE PHOTO: The Apple Inc logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo FILE PHOTO: The Apple Inc logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The Apple Inc logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo (REUTERS)

Apple faces an initial investigation from France’s data-protection watchdog following a complaint that its personalized advertising feature violates European Union privacy rules.

Apple faces an initial investigation from France’s data-protection watchdog following a complaint that its personalized advertising feature violates European Union privacy rules.

CNIL, the regulator that oversees privacy and data, is examining allegations from France Digitale, a lobbying group representing startups and venture capital firms, a spokesman for the watchdog said in response to questions from Bloomberg. France Digitale filed the complaint last week.

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France Digitale says Apple’s personalized advertising feature -- which shows ads in the App Store, Apple News, and the Stocks app -- is based on user data, but doesn’t seek consent before sending targeted ads. The complaint comes as Apple is preparing to release an iPhone and iPad software update that limits how much data third-party advertising systems, such as those from Facebook, can gather about users.

Spokespeople for Apple didn’t immediately return emails or phone calls seeking comment. Apple has previously called the allegations in the complaint “patently false” and said “privacy is built into the ads we sell on our platform with no tracking.”

The investigation may eventually be dismissed, lead to requests for Apple to make adjustments to its system or become an in-depth probe with CNIL imposing sanctions, spokesman Yohann Brunet said. The timing of the probe is undefined, he said.

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“We have to do a detailed study of what’s been sent to us” before CNIL decides whether the EU’s data protection or e-privacy rules are at issue in the case, Brunet said.

France Digitale’s move comes after a group of French online advertisers filed a complaint with the country’s competition authority, asking it to halt changes to how iPhone users’ data is collected. The group of four advertising lobbies said the changes violated European Union rules on user consent, saying Apple can still deliver personalized advertising via a default setting, holding itself to a different standard.

The French antitrust ruling, which could have implications for Apple’s planned iOS 14.5 update, is expected imminently.

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