The EU has a plan to fix Internet privacy: be more like Apple 7

Like millions Other Internet users in Europe, when German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Alexandra Giz wants to read something on the Internet, she must first open and scroll through several options to refuse to share her data with third party advertisers. . Europe’s landmark privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), means users must seek consent to track websites online. But many companies find it much harder to refuse consent, meaning that it may take more time for Giz to search-opt-out than to spend on a website. “The problem with the current GDPR is that it’s not being implemented properly and so people don’t really like it,” he says.

Giz is one of the few European lawmakers to have drafted some of the world’s toughest rules against technology companies in an effort to fix the Internet’s opt-out function.

As MEPs thought in January about how to give European Internet users that real choice, an existing system developed by Apple was presented as a potential template for reshaping the Internet. In 2021, the tech giant launched a new privacy pop-up that said it would give users a real choice about whether they want to be tracked. The feature gives iPhone users two very easy options when downloading new apps: “Ask App Not to Track” or “Allow”. Statistics show that up to 98 percent of iPhone users took the opportunity to opt out, citing evidence by some MEPs that people would choose to protect their privacy if given the opportunity. “I truly believe that privacy should not be an option only for people who can carry premium devices or premium Apple products,” said Timo Walken, a German MEP from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

Photo: Christoph Darnbach / Getty Images

Now European lawmakers want to apply Apple’s concept to all major online platforms, a definition that includes online marketplaces, app stores and social media platforms, and force people to show their easy options when they first visit a website. On January 20, a majority in the MEP voted in favor of an amendment to the Digital Services Act (DSA), stating that denying consent to ad tracking would not be more difficult or time consuming than providing it. Another amendment proposes to ban bold patterns – design choices that try to influence the user to agree to the tracking. For proposals to make it the final version of the DSA, they must be approved by the European Council, which represents the heads of government of the 27 member states. If the proposals survive this discussion, they could become law later this year.

But recent revelations about Apple’s once acclaimed system show that it is not a clear alternative to what EU lawmakers might expect. This is risky to solve, and the “do not track” option does not block all tracking from advertisers. Since the tracking changes rolled out in July, companies like Snapchat’s core Snap and Facebook have been sharing user signals from the iPhone until that data is anonymous and aggregated. Apple has said that developers will not allow the use of signals from devices to try to identify users, but this has not deterred advertisers from collecting anonymous data for target users. An Apple spokesman said the rules “apply equally to all developers.”

A Snap spokesperson said the company has designed privacy-protective solutions that “measure overall conversion data without tying the platform’s off-platform activities (such as installing an app or visiting a website) to specific Snapchatters.” Facebook declined to comment.

It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. Regulators have noted that fact. In December 2021, Polish competition regulator resolved some misconceptions about Apple’s app tracking transparency feature. “This does not mean that user information is no longer collected and they do not receive personalized ads,” the regulator, known as UOKIK, said at the time. Apple is facing an in-depth investigation in France to determine whether privacy changes will hurt advertisers.

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