Developers say Apple's limitations on location tracking are anti-competitive

Posted:
in iOS edited August 16
A group of iOS app developers have taken issue with new privacy policies Apple is set to debut with iOS 13 this fall, saying location tracking restrictions placed on third parties are anti-competitive and could harm their respective businesses.

iOS 13
Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi presents iOS 13 at WWDC19.


Principal executives behind seven apps signed a joint letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook last Friday, claiming the tech giant's handling of third-party software that utilizes location tracking functions in iOS 13 amounts to anti-competitive behavior, reports The Information.

Apple grants a pass for its own apps that track device location but prohibits third-party apps from doing the same, suggesting the company's regulations amount to a "double standard," the group said. Developers are concerned that Apple's decision to restrict availability of location tracking tools gives its own apps an innate competitive advantage, according to the report.

"As Apple expands into additional services, some of which compete with developers like us, the need for a level playing field becomes ever more critical to allow the ecosystem to flourish," the email reads.

Among the executives who signed the letter are Arity president Gary Hallgren, Happn CEO Didier Rappaport, Life360 CEO Chris Hulls, Tile CEO CJ Prober, Twenty chief strategy officer Jared Allgood, Zendrive CEO Jonathan Matus and Zenly CEO Antoine Martin.

Each of the signatory apps integrate a form of device location functionality, with some relying on the technology to power core platform features. For example, Tile monitors the position of its Tile trackers, while Life360 provides users real-time location sharing and geofenced alerts.

"We take responsibility for ensuring that apps are held to a high standard for privacy, security and content because nothing is more important than maintaining the trust of our users," an Apple spokesperson told The Information. "Users trust Apple -- and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution. Any changes we make to hardware, software or system level apps is in service to the user, their privacy and providing them the best products and ecosystem in the world."

Apple has greatly reduced the ability for users to inadvertently enable location tracking features in iOS 13. Currently, users can activate constant, always on tracking upon initial app setup, but that option will not carry over to the next-generation operating system. In iOS 13, tracking must be activated from the system Settings menu.

Developers claim the change will lead users to believe an app is not functioning as advertised.

Further, the developers are concerned that new restrictions applied to PushKit, a tool that enables Voice over Internet Protocol calls, will negatively impact their apps' effectiveness. Certain apps have leveraged PushKit to collect user data, including location information, the report said. With iOS 13, Apple is limiting PushKit's ability to perform background operations, effectively limiting its use to VoIP calls.

The change affects apps like Life360, which harnesses PushKit to dispatch emergency services to a user's location in the event of a car accident, according to the report.

"Like you, we are committed to ensuring that privacy is a top priority, but are concerned that the current implementation will create user confusion that actually undermines this goal," the email reads. "The changes also have the added effect of removing critical geolocation functionality while simultaneously not applying to Apple's own apps, some of which compete with the products we develop."

Apple is working with signatories of the letter to implement alternative means of location tracking, the report said.

Apple could conceivably make changes to iOS 13 prior to its expected September debut, but the prospect is unlikely considering the company's stance on user privacy.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 26
    bonobobbonobob Posts: 196member
    If the vendors of other apps were as tight with my location data as is Apple, then I wouldn't have a problem with them collecting it. Unfortunately, that is not the case, so I side with Apple here.
    agilealtitudeAppleExposeddhawkins541planetary paulleavingthebiggapplesnorangesSpamSandwichsvanstromvirtualshiftmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 2 of 26
    The Saturn V navigational computers was a 14KB computer. I'm pretty sure these developers will find a way to do it without infringing on users privacy. There are a lot of smart people out there. It's just a matter of time. Caveat: I'm not a developer. But, some of the apps out there are just awesome given the constraints of the medium.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 26
    Perhaps Apple could relent but put a major “Privacy Warning” on the page where you download the dangerous apps, and require purchaser to opt-in to download any dangerous app. I would be ok with that. 
    williamlondonmuthuk_vanalingamjahblade
  • Reply 4 of 26
    It would only be anti-competitive if Apple had a competing product.

    I’m a bit sympathetic for the Tile app, but the reality is the vast majority of these apps can’t be trusted.  That said, there has to be some method for users to override the defaults.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 26
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,698member
    Fortunately, Android has a far, far larger market share so these developers can simply go and mooch whatever personal data they want from Android users.  

    A major reason why I use an iPhone is precisely due to Apple's privacy policies.  If those developers feel the need to base part of their business models in tracking my whereabouts - most likely without my explicit permission - then cry me a river.
    fotoformatsvanstromvirtualshiftapres587jahbladeStrangeDaysRayz2016pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 26
    davendaven Posts: 543member
    The only app I can think of that I would want to share my location with when I'm not using it is find my iPhone. Can anyone tell me of an app they want to share their location data with even when they aren't using it?
    svanstromwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 26
    arlorarlor Posts: 508member
    daven said:
    The only app I can think of that I would want to share my location with when I'm not using it is find my iPhone. Can anyone tell me of an app they want to share their location data with even when they aren't using it?
    Two fairly innocuous cases: maps and fitness tracking apps. 
    pscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 26
    The thing is I bought into Apple to get away from Developers stealing my personal information. I am not selling to them....therefore they cannot make money without my buy in. Too bad for these slimy businesses which are only out to get free money.
    rotateleftbytesvanstromjahbladeStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 26
    sflocal said:
    Fortunately, Android has a far, far larger market share so these developers can simply go and mooch whatever personal data they want from Android users.  

    A major reason why I use an iPhone is precisely due to Apple's privacy policies.  If those developers feel the need to base part of their business models in tracking my whereabouts - most likely without my explicit permission - then cry me a river.
    That’s the thing. It doesn’t, in the markets that matter to these vendors. Android’s global share is largely propped up by its high penetration at low price points in developing countries.

    in places like the US/UK/Australia iOS is often around 50% (or higher)  of installed base, due to the useful longevity of devices (even when Android sells more new devices they drop out of usage faster, and under-index in installed base).

    So I get why they are worried - it will hurt them from a product standpoint.

    I think Apple is doing the right thing, and not anti-competitive because it does not compete with these SW vendors.


    tmaysvanstromjahbladepscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 26
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,395member
    Perhaps Apple could relent but put a major “Privacy Warning” on the page where you download the dangerous apps, and require purchaser to opt-in to download any dangerous app. I would be ok with that. 
    That would be an invitation to unlimited lawsuits.
    jahbladewatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 26
    I’ve used Life360 in the past so my wife and I could track my younger kids, making sure they get to school and home OK on their own.

    They had Android phones because of price point mostly. We couldn’t trust them not to lose the device, drop it too often and break it or have it stolen at school or something else.

    Obviously if everyone in the family had an iPhone we could have used Find My Friends with a Geofence but Life360 gave us the ability to track Android phones from our iPhones. I doubt Apple will give that capability.

    I love Apple’s approach to privacy and we all know companies that would abuse this to track you. However there are some legitimate use cases as well, as long as the person is fully aware an app is tracking them in the background then I’ve no issues with it. It’s more the shady companies like Google / Facebook and so on that grab this data for marketing purposes that need to be stopped.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 26
    It’s quite handy of these CEOs to step forward and identify which services are untrustworthy with location data. 
    svanstromwilliamlondonjahbladeStrangeDaysRayz2016watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 26
    ANY and I mean ANY app that insists on tracking me will be gone from my phone.
    I have location services turned off for 90% of the time. I even switch off BT when I'm not using it.

    These people need to understand that we can exist without their slurping (I was going to be more direct but if I use my real thoughts it would get delete) of our every move.

    You play ball with us and we will with you.
    You mess us around and you are dead to us.

    Got it? It isn't that hard.

    svanstrommuthuk_vanalingamjahbladewatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 26
    So glad someone stands up to these creeps. 

    They dont have a RIGHT to know anything about me. And I’d prefer they know nothing st all. 

    Apple needs to stend firm. 

    One of the reasons I started and have remained with Apple is their security and privacy protection. 

    Went from a pc centric environment to an all Apple ecosystem. 

    While apple isnt perfect snd csn be boneheaded at times, standing up for the customer is why they have so many. 
    svanstromburnsidewatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 26
    ANY and I mean ANY app that insists on tracking me will be gone from my phone.
    I have location services turned off for 90% of the time. I even switch off BT when I'm not using it.

    These people need to understand that we can exist without their slurping (I was going to be more direct but if I use my real thoughts it would get delete) of our every move.

    You play ball with us and we will with you.
    You mess us around and you are dead to us.

    Got it? It isn't that hard.

    If the Tiles app is for the same production I’l thinking of... it’s actually useful.  It’s used to find things, like your phone, keys etc.  

    It’s about the size of a quarter (but square) you stick to anything you want to find.  Might want to track down that missing TV remote for example.

    In general you don’t want apps to be able to track you, but there are legitimate uses...
    mobirdwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 26
    Like Trojan horses or wolves in sheep’s clothing, this developers are trying to  if a user protections by play today protective ballots that Apple is providing for users.   
     Their language is deceptive and missed leading to the users who are unaware of hell there bones can be exploited without couples protection.
    Thank you Apple for keeping up customer focused Values. 
     Developers only have a Farris problem certifications. One is when they do start to exploit services provided by Apple for users which are initially for good purposes. The second assess that’s when they develop something that Apple deems would be better off handled and the operating system without overlap  By  third-party software.
    Apple has been pretty good at providing some software solutions while still allowing third parties but in many hostesses of this competition it can cost users more problems that I’ve or just holy handled by Apple. 
  • Reply 17 of 26
    eideardeideard Posts: 399member
    Publish a list of the whiners and their products.  I'd like to know who to avoid.
    svanstrommac_dogpscooter63krreagan2watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 26
    The problem here to some extent stems from the way Apple operates. Personally, I think Apple is right to provide tight user controls over location - it's a battery issue as well as being a privacy issue. The problem is that the way that Apple operates, totally opaquely, provides no forward guidance to industries whose whole business model may be predicated on APIs that are yanked with little or no notice. Case in point, the companies that produced software monitoring solutions for parents, where Apple pulled the plug on them (Apple only produced their piecemeal screen time monitoring options after a group of major investors publicly excoriated them for not addressing the issue), until enough people complained and they reversed course.
    edited August 17
  • Reply 19 of 26
    This article skims over a key fact that many readers will miss-- Each of these apps can still use always on location tracking!   All Apple did was to wisely eliminate it as a checkbox choice, FOR EVERY APP.  Instead, an app will have to make an explicit request for always on tracking and then the user has to take a few seconds to go into privacy settings and allow it.  

    These particular app companies are being disingenuous in that they are afraid that they can't make the case for always on tracking and they are currently relying on people giving them permission without thinking about it.  They are not afraid that you won't be able to use their apps, because obviously if you download it, you are going to give it permissions to work, but they fear that having people make a more conscious decision to allow "always on" tracking will result in fewer people choosing to do so, and them having less data to harvest and sell.  




    StrangeDaysmuthuk_vanalingamFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 26
    ANY and I mean ANY app that insists on tracking me will be gone from my phone.
    I have location services turned off for 90% of the time. I even switch off BT when I'm not using it.

    These people need to understand that we can exist without their slurping (I was going to be more direct but if I use my real thoughts it would get delete) of our every move.

    You play ball with us and we will with you.
    You mess us around and you are dead to us.

    Got it? It isn't that hard.

    If the Tiles app is for the same production I’l thinking of... it’s actually useful.  It’s used to find things, like your phone, keys etc.  

    It’s about the size of a quarter (but square) you stick to anything you want to find.  Might want to track down that missing TV remote for example.

    In general you don’t want apps to be able to track you, but there are legitimate uses...
    I’m familiar with Tile but have not used it. Is there a reason they need persistent tracking? Would it not work properly if I chose “Only While Using”?
    watto_cobra
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