Tile accuses Apple of antitrust behavior in letter to EU regulators

Posted:
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Tile, a manufacturer of location tracking hardware and software, is calling on the European Commission to open a probe into Apple's business practices, claiming the company is fiercely anti-competitive.




On May 26, Tile sent a letter to European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, requesting an inquiry into Apple's allegedly anti-competitive practices. Tile stated that Apple had been intentionally making it difficult for users to use Tile's products, preparing for a release of "AirTags," which would work with Apple's existing Find My feature.

The claim states that Apple has begun selectively disabling features for rival products, which Tile fears could drive customers away from their product and toward Apple's.

"In the past twelve months, Apple has taken several steps to completely disadvantage Tile, including by making it more difficult for consumers to use our products and services," said Tile's general counsel Kirsten Daru in the letter seen by the Financial Times.

"This is particularly concerning because Apple's actions come at the same time that Apple both launched a new FindMy app that competes even more directly with Tile and also began preparing for the launch of a competitive hardware product," the letter continued.

Apple has denied such allegations, releasing their own statement to challenge the letter to regulators.

"We strenuously deny the allegations of uncompetitive behaviour that Tile is waging against us. Consistent with the critical path we've been on for over a decade, last year we introduced further privacy protections that safeguard user location data," Apple responded. "Tile doesn't like those decisions so instead of arguing the issue on its merits, they've instead decided to launch meritless attacks."

This is not the first time Tile has raised concerns over Apple's behavior. In June of 2019, Apple stopped selling Tile products in its retail outlets. The company later poached a Tile engineer, though it is unclear if the person was brought on to develop a competing product.

In January, Tile -- along with three other companies -- met with the House of Representatives to air out grievances against tech giants Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

The meeting lead to the Federal Trade Commission launching a probe into past acquisitions made by Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Google, and Facebook, going back to 2010.

In April, Tile went on record, stating that Apple's behavior had gotten worse, as they begun restricting access to Apple's built-in positioning hardware.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 32
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,435member
    So exactly what is apple doing? Tile and the article make several claims that Apple has systematically disabled tile products but never said how. 

    We keep hearing about airtags but they’re still rumor-ware. Personally, I don’t think I’d use either AirTags or Tile, but I don’t think Apple should lock a competitor out, either. 
    randominternetpersonmuthuk_vanalingamviclauyychammeroftruthwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 32
    prismaticsprismatics Posts: 164member
    MplsP said:
    So exactly what is apple doing? Tile and the article make several claims that Apple has systematically disabled tile products but never said how. 

    We keep hearing about airtags but they’re still rumor-ware. Personally, I don’t think I’d use either AirTags or Tile, but I don’t think Apple should lock a competitor out, either. 
    Certain APIs needed for Apps to communicate with the iPhone that are needlessly disabled without having an impact on privacy. Now, somehow it looks that Apple disables these APIs especially if Tile needs them, so that’s somewhat strange and worthy to be investigated. It would not serve the public discussion to list obscure function names and I don’t know these, but I have experienced myself what these changes cause and how companies depend on these APIs for their business to operate.
    edited May 2020 seanismorris
  • Reply 3 of 32
    stuartfstuartf Posts: 52member

    Time for Apple to close this down by offering an open location API that it and others can use.

    A bigger interoperable eco system that everyone can use. Tile instantly gets to scale to every participating Apple device

    Apple and Tile happily coexist. Many people will pay a premium for the Apple product but people will still buy Tile

    Announcement at WWDC possibly?
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 32
    JinTechJinTech Posts: 787member
    Tile just know their days are numbered and are shivering in their boots.
    williamlondonpulseimagesdewmelkrupptoysandmellamachiajony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 32
    JinTech said:
    Tile just know their days are numbered and are shivering in their boots.
    That's the wrong attitude. If Apple keeps coming out with services that competes with other 3rd party developers on their platform, those developers will start to not trust Apple and wonder when the day will come that Apple comes out with their competing service and drives them out of business. Or worse, creates disadvantages for these 3rd party developers that wouldn't apply to Apple. That does not foster innovation or trust on the platform that these developers want to use.
    elijahgwilliamlondonlkrupplarryjwmuthuk_vanalingamcroprviclauyyctoysandmellamawatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 32
    MplsP said:
    So exactly what is apple doing? Tile and the article make several claims that Apple has systematically disabled tile products but never said how. 

    We keep hearing about airtags but they’re still rumor-ware. Personally, I don’t think I’d use either AirTags or Tile, but I don’t think Apple should lock a competitor out, either. 
    Certain APIs needed for Apps to communicate with the iPhone that are needlessly disabled without having an impact on privacy. Now, somehow it looks that Apple disables these APIs especially if Tile needs them, so that’s somewhat strange and worthy to be investigated. It would not serve the public discussion to list obscure function names and I don’t know these, but I have experienced myself what these changes cause and how companies depend on these APIs for their business to operate.
    How is not allowing background location tracking of users not improve privacy.
    pulseimagesdewmewilliamlondonsphericjdb8167toysandmepujones1llamachiajony0
  • Reply 7 of 32
    JinTech said:
    Tile just know their days are numbered and are shivering in their boots.
    That's the wrong attitude. If Apple keeps coming out with services that competes with other 3rd party developers on their platform, those developers will start to not trust Apple and wonder when the day will come that Apple comes out with their competing service and drives them out of business. Or worse, creates disadvantages for these 3rd party developers that wouldn't apply to Apple. That does not foster innovation or trust on the platform that these developers want to use.
    One could also argue that these companies have benefited immensely from the current system, and the exposure it provides.
    Apple TV + isn't drawing people away from Netflix, and iOS users aren't leaving Spotify in droves either.
    kiehtanwilliamlondonjdb8167pujones1chiawatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 32
    KuyangkohKuyangkoh Posts: 760member
    I have been using tiles since their inceptions and their products are getting better....find my iphone or ios devices are also helpful. I dont attached tiles to ipad or iphone however.
  • Reply 9 of 32
    Tile's app uses the GPS location feature in the background while also scanning Bluetooth for nearby Tile products. It gets permission from the user to do this. Apple now demands repeated permissions from users for the Tile app to continue to run in the background. Apple claims it must do this because users don't realize apps that run in the background and use GPS are burning through their battery life. This is true but Apple has magically chosen to implement a solution that puts its own AirTags product in a clear advantage. Users will probably never even be asked if they want to scan for AirTags in the background just like they are never asked if they want to scan for Apple's products using WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS in the background currently (that's how Find My and WiFi location works). I see both companies as being in the wrong here. Tile should never have built their business model with such a huge dependency on Apple's SDK restrictions. Apple should never restrict what users can choose to do with their products. Users should always have a way to tell iOS that they want to enable full access to Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS in their apps. By all means make it easy and obvious which apps are using the most power and show users why when they tap on them and give them some options for limiting the power usage of those apps (like revoking GPS background permission). If Apple built its entire SDK strategy around giving information and power to their users, they would never get into situations like this one.
    pulseimageswilliamlondonlkruppmuthuk_vanalingamelijahgviclauyyc
  • Reply 10 of 32
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,490member
    JinTech said:
    Tile just know their days are numbered and are shivering in their boots.
    That's the wrong attitude. If Apple keeps coming out with services that competes with other 3rd party developers on their platform, those developers will start to not trust Apple and wonder when the day will come that Apple comes out with their competing service and drives them out of business. Or worse, creates disadvantages for these 3rd party developers that wouldn't apply to Apple. That does not foster innovation or trust on the platform that these developers want to use.

    Yeah, except this type of thing is nothing new and anyone developing products for a platform ought to know that there's always a possibility that the function of your product may eventually be built into that platform or maybe even be somehow handicapped because of API changes.

    Platforms come and go, change and evolve... if you are a company that can't keep up, then you're out anyway.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 32
    leavingthebiggleavingthebigg Posts: 1,264member
    To me, Tile's complaint is about having to deal with the reactions of informed users. In the past Title had the ability to indiscriminately collect user location data all day every day without users being informed beyond the initial request for location access. With users being informed about the collection their location data and being informed how to limit the collection, Tile has decided to go on a public relations campaign to damage Apple instead of changing its location collection practices. The campaign may be having the opposite outcome Tile has been aiming for. The harder Tile pushes for changes in iOS the more users become informed about how much Tiles wants to continue collecting their location data.

    jdb8167williamlondonviclauyycpujones1chiaaaarrrggghwatto_cobracornchip
  • Reply 12 of 32
    ... If Apple built its entire SDK strategy around giving information and power to their users, they would never get into situations like this one.
    You're questioning Apple's fundamental approach to product design.  Apple always gives users only a small subset of the options they could provide.  That's part of the Apple experience.  There are plenty of downsides to that, but in general it's worked amazingly well for them.  Facing "situations like this one" are a small price to pay.
    williamlondonviclauyycpujones1watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 32
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,946member
    Tile's app uses the GPS location feature in the background while also scanning Bluetooth for nearby Tile products. It gets permission from the user to do this. Apple now demands repeated permissions from users for the Tile app to continue to run in the background. Apple claims it must do this because users don't realize apps that run in the background and use GPS are burning through their battery life. This is true but Apple has magically chosen to implement a solution that puts its own AirTags product in a clear advantage. Users will probably never even be asked if they want to scan for AirTags in the background just like they are never asked if they want to scan for Apple's products using WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS in the background currently (that's how Find My and WiFi location works). I see both companies as being in the wrong here. Tile should never have built their business model with such a huge dependency on Apple's SDK restrictions. Apple should never restrict what users can choose to do with their products. Users should always have a way to tell iOS that they want to enable full access to Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS in their apps. By all means make it easy and obvious which apps are using the most power and show users why when they tap on them and give them some options for limiting the power usage of those apps (like revoking GPS background permission). If Apple built its entire SDK strategy around giving information and power to their users, they would never get into situations like this one.

    Your primary assertion here is that Apple is not telling users about Apple processes running in the background, e.g.. ("Users will probably never even be asked"), is pure speculation intended to paint Apple in a bad light. Such a claim is made even more egregious by the fact that Apple has not even announced a product in this category or shipped beta versions of software that would work with such an unannounced product.

    Is it really fair to lambast a company for what they might do in the future and then layer on top of the speculation a bunch of violations that occur only if you assume the most pessimistic perspective? Geez, at least they should give Apple a chance to show their hand before adopting the victim persona.

    Yes, these guys are scared sh**less that they are going to be crushed by a competitor. There used to be a time when smart companies dug-in and showed a little intestinal fortitude and figured out a way to beat the competition - by competing, by being innovative, and by out-engineering the slow moving megacorps with better engineering and agility. Now they'd rather whip out their always-damp victim crying towel and call their lawyers. Pathetic.  

    I don't know what SDKs you are referring to, but unless a company has specifically licensed an integration mechanism into Apple's hardware or software systems, with contract terms and conditions, Apple is free to modify their SDKs in whatever way suits them. Yes, they open up SDKs to help build out their ecosystem with third-party contributions and certainly do not want to stifle growth, inhibit adoption, or piss off partners, but Apple owns the infrastructure and is fully responsible for maintaining its integrity. If they need to make changes to ensure the viability of the ecosystem for the greatest number of stakeholders, they will. Deprecation happens. It's no different than GM or Ford changing the interior layout of their vehicles in a way that disrupts third party floor mat suppliers, or changing a headlight design in a way that is no longer compatible with a group of light bulb suppliers. Owning the coat that others want to grab on to still has its privileges, as it always should.
    jdb8167williamlondonmark fearingpujones1chiawatto_cobrakurai_kage
  • Reply 14 of 32
    bluefire1bluefire1 Posts: 1,188member
    I’ve been using Tiles for a few years and am very satisfied with their products. That said, if Apple wants to integrate a tracking/location system into their product line, they have every right to. 
    pujones1watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 32
    lukeilukei Posts: 362member
    JinTech said:
    Tile just know their days are numbered and are shivering in their boots.
    That's the wrong attitude. If Apple keeps coming out with services that competes with other 3rd party developers on their platform, those developers will start to not trust Apple and wonder when the day will come that Apple comes out with their competing service and drives them out of business. Or worse, creates disadvantages for these 3rd party developers that wouldn't apply to Apple. That does not foster innovation or trust on the platform that these developers want to use.
    One could also argue that these companies have benefited immensely from the current system, and the exposure it provides.
    Apple TV + isn't drawing people away from Netflix, and iOS users aren't leaving Spotify in droves either.


    The key difference is Apple still allows Netflix and Spotify to work on their platforms. What they are allegedly doing is making moves to prevent Tile from doing so whilst coming out with their own product which can work. If this transpired then that is anti competitive practice.
    muthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonelijahgcaladanian
  • Reply 16 of 32
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,504member
    An easy fix would be for Apple to selectively approve particular apps such as Tile or navigation apps that are a special case. If they do this then Tile's argument goes away and Apple are not being anticompetitive. If they refuse, I can see the anticompetitive argument being quite true. Most games and apps don't need constant background access, so popping up the dialog for them is fine, and unless there is a genuine reason they shouldn't have permanent background access.
    williamlondonmuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 32
    Some part of Tile’s complaint may be legitimate but lumping in a product that is rumored and may never see the light of day undermines their credibility. 
  • Reply 18 of 32
    lukei said:
    JinTech said:
    Tile just know their days are numbered and are shivering in their boots.
    That's the wrong attitude. If Apple keeps coming out with services that competes with other 3rd party developers on their platform, those developers will start to not trust Apple and wonder when the day will come that Apple comes out with their competing service and drives them out of business. Or worse, creates disadvantages for these 3rd party developers that wouldn't apply to Apple. That does not foster innovation or trust on the platform that these developers want to use.
    One could also argue that these companies have benefited immensely from the current system, and the exposure it provides.
    Apple TV + isn't drawing people away from Netflix, and iOS users aren't leaving Spotify in droves either.


    The key difference is Apple still allows Netflix and Spotify to work on their platforms. What they are allegedly doing is making moves to prevent Tile from doing so whilst coming out with their own product which can work. If this transpired then that is anti competitive practice.
    ‘Allegedly’. That’s the key. And how does limiting app access to your location without reminders about the app doing it and the battery drain issues associated with that not important to Apples users? 
    lightvox88watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 32

    dewme said:
    Tile's app uses the GPS location feature in the background while also scanning Bluetooth for nearby Tile products. It gets permission from the user to do this. Apple now demands repeated permissions from users for the Tile app to continue to run in the background. Apple claims it must do this because users don't realize apps that run in the background and use GPS are burning through their battery life. This is true but Apple has magically chosen to implement a solution that puts its own AirTags product in a clear advantage. Users will probably never even be asked if they want to scan for AirTags in the background just like they are never asked if they want to scan for Apple's products using WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS in the background currently (that's how Find My and WiFi location works). I see both companies as being in the wrong here. Tile should never have built their business model with such a huge dependency on Apple's SDK restrictions. Apple should never restrict what users can choose to do with their products. Users should always have a way to tell iOS that they want to enable full access to Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS in their apps. By all means make it easy and obvious which apps are using the most power and show users why when they tap on them and give them some options for limiting the power usage of those apps (like revoking GPS background permission). If Apple built its entire SDK strategy around giving information and power to their users, they would never get into situations like this one.

    Your primary assertion here is that Apple is not telling users about Apple processes running in the background, e.g.. ("Users will probably never even be asked"), is pure speculation intended to paint Apple in a bad light. Such a claim is made even more egregious by the fact that Apple has not even announced a product in this category or shipped beta versions of software that would work with such an unannounced product.

    Is it really fair to lambast a company for what they might do in the future and then layer on top of the speculation a bunch of violations that occur only if you assume the most pessimistic perspective? Geez, at least they should give Apple a chance to show their hand before adopting the victim persona.

    Yes, these guys are scared sh**less that they are going to be crushed by a competitor. There used to be a time when smart companies dug-in and showed a little intestinal fortitude and figured out a way to beat the competition - by competing, by being innovative, and by out-engineering the slow moving megacorps with better engineering and agility. Now they'd rather whip out their always-damp victim crying towel and call their lawyers. Pathetic.  

    I don't know what SDKs you are referring to, but unless a company has specifically licensed an integration mechanism into Apple's hardware or software systems, with contract terms and conditions, Apple is free to modify their SDKs in whatever way suits them. Yes, they open up SDKs to help build out their ecosystem with third-party contributions and certainly do not want to stifle growth, inhibit adoption, or piss off partners, but Apple owns the infrastructure and is fully responsible for maintaining its integrity. If they need to make changes to ensure the viability of the ecosystem for the greatest number of stakeholders, they will. Deprecation happens. It's no different than GM or Ford changing the interior layout of their vehicles in a way that disrupts third party floor mat suppliers, or changing a headlight design in a way that is no longer compatible with a group of light bulb suppliers. Owning the coat that others want to grab on to still has its privileges, as it always should.
    Great response. I think about all the companies that tried to make a stylus for the original iPads when it wasn’t designed for that. Can they sue once Apple engineered in the tech for one to work? A lot of companies had to pivot after that.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 32
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,820member
    Tile's huge flaw is that it requires other Tile users to have an app running in order for it to work outside the range of the original owner's iPhone.

    Apple's method essentially bakes tracking into iOS itself so all it needs is an iPhone near the vicinity of an AirTag, anywhere an iPhone exists.  That's huge.  It's why I don't use Tile's product.  I want to be able to essentially track my tag anywhere and that's where Tile's product fails.

    Tile is basically struggling to remain relevant.  Apple is (and should be) allowed to make it's own competing products and provide user choice.  It seems that Tile is complaining more about being restricted (rightfully so) by Apple in regards to how it uses location data of the user, and not the Tile tags. 
    Rayz2016aaarrrggghwatto_cobraJinTech
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