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Apple fined $8.5 million in France over targeted App Store ads (updated)

Apple allegedly didn't ask for permission when gathering data.

REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Apple is the second tech giant today to receive a fine over personalized ads. France's National Commission on Informatics and Liberty (CNIL) has issued an €8 million (roughly $8.5 million) penalty over allegations Apple automatically collected identifying data from App Store visitors using iOS 14.6 without their permission, helping the company target ads. The firm was profiting from violations of data protection law, according to officials.

You could turn off the ad targeting, but it was enabled by default and couldn't be disabled without wading through multiple menu levels, CNIL added. That reportedly made it impossible for users to give proper consent. Apple has since changed its practices, and CNIL said it conducted "several" checks between 2021 and 2022 to make sure the company was honoring data rules. France launched its investigation in March 2021.

We've asked Apple for comment. As 9to5Mac noted, Apple told Financial Times' Patrick McGee in a statement that it was "disappointed" with the decision and planned an appeal. The iPhone maker argued that its Search Ads system went "further" than any rival in offering choice over targeted ads, and didn't track user cross third-party apps or websites.

Apple has had a contentious relationship with French regulators. In 2020, the country's competition authority issued a fine equivalent to $1.2 billion (now down to $364.6 million) for alleged antitrust abuses in its distribution chain. The company also received a $27.3 million fine over iPhone performance throttling that same year. While the French government defended Apple's iOS 14 anti-tracking measures against industry pressure, it's evident that the brand remains under close scrutiny.

Update 1/5 4:53PM ET: Apple has shared its full statement with Engadget. You can read the response below.

"We are disappointed with this decision given the CNIL has previously recognized that how we serve search ads in the App Store prioritizes user privacy, and we will appeal. Apple Search Ads goes further than any other digital advertising platform we are aware of by providing users with a clear choice as to whether or not they would like personalized ads. Additionally, Apple Search Ads never tracks users across 3rd party apps and websites, and only uses first-party data to personalize ads. We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and a user should always get to decide whether to share their data and with whom.”