German groups file Apple antitrust complaint as it makes privacy changes

A group of Germany’s largest media, tech and advertising companies have accused Apple of antitrust abuse as it introduces changes to the privacy settings of iPhones that they say will harm the ads market.

Nine industry associations, representing companies including Facebook and Axel Springer, the owner of Bild, Die Welt and Insider, filed the complaint on Monday with Germany’s competition regulator.

Apple is expected to roll out iOS 14.5 later on Monday, an update which will force all apps to ask users if they wish to be tracked for advertising purposes. Most users are expected to decline, dealing a blow to the mobile advertising market.

Apple has said the changes improve the privacy of its users. Last week, it emerged the iPhone maker is also planning to boost its own advertising business.

The German complaint predicted a 60 per cent fall in advertising revenues for app developers, as the changes make it harder for third parties to gather the data they need to place ads.

Thomas Hoppner, at law firm Hausfeld, which is representing the complainants, said more apps will have to switch to charging consumers instead of the current advertising-based business model.

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He added: “Consumers will be harmed by higher transaction costs. If the relevance of ads decreases, consumers will have to spend more time searching to find offerings that are relevant to them.”

A similar complaint was made by advertisers in France last October and France Digitale, which represents most of the country’s venture capital firms, also filed a complaint in March.

Apple did not immediately comment on the new complaint in Germany but a spokesperson pointed to previous statements made by the company in the context of the French case.

When the complaint was filed Apple said it believed privacy was a “fundamental human right” and that users’ data belonged to them and that they should choose whether they wanted to share it and with whom.

Apple said: “With iOS 14, we’re giving users the choice whether or not they want to allow apps to track them by linking their information with data from third parties for the purpose of advertising, or sharing their information with data brokers. 

“These rules apply equally to all developers — including Apple — and we have received strong support from regulators and privacy advocates for this new feature.”

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