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French regulator says Apple's new app-privacy rules 'don't appear to be abusive'

France's competition regulators say they won't take immediate action against Apple, though they're still investigating complaints.

Apple's new app transparency rules, in an upcoming iOS 14.5 update, require that users approve tracking from apps.
Angela Lang/CNET

Apple scored a legal win in France on Wednesday when the country's competition authority, known as the Autorité de la Concurrence, declined to prohibit the tech giant from instituting new privacy rules for its devices. Apple's upcoming iOS 14.5 software update will ask users if they want to allow ad tracking across various apps and websites. The French regulator said Apple's new rules might help users protect their privacy.

The ad tracking option is part of "Apple's long-standing strategy to protect the privacy of users of iOS products," the French regulator said in a statement. Some advertisers and app makers had complained the new rules were unfair and anticompetitive. The Autorité disagreed, for now. "The investigation into the merits of the case will ... make it possible to ensure that this process does not constitute an anticompetitive practice, in particular in that it would reflect a form of discrimination or 'self-preferencing' on Apple's part," it said.

Apple said in a statement that it was grateful for the initial ruling. "We firmly believe that users' data belongs to them, and that they should control when that data is shared, and with whom," the company said.

The move makes it more likely that one of Apple's most controversial new privacy features for its iOS software for its iPhones and iPads will get a nod from regulators. The new rule, announced last year, would require app makers to ask users whether they approve of being tracked across multiple apps or websites for advertising purposes. Apple plans to include the feature in its upcoming iOS 14.5 software update, due in the coming weeks.

While privacy advocates including the Electronic Frontier Foundation have supported the move, Facebook in particular has attacked it. The social networking giant launched a PR campaign late last year against the feature, taking out full-page ads in national newspapers to draw attention to what Facebook said were Apple's unfair practices. The company said Apple's new policy is "more about profit than privacy" and that it would hurt small businesses that rely on Facebook ad targeting to reach potential customers.

Apple initially had planned to release its new tracking request feature last year but delayed it to give developers more time to tweak their apps. "When enabled, a system prompt will give users the ability to allow or reject that tracking on an app-by-app basis," Apple said at the time, adding that it planned to add the feature early in 2021.