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Apple fined $11 million in Italy for employing ‘Aggressive Methods’ in commercial use of private data

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The Italian Competition Authority penalised Apple and Google 10 million euros ($11 million) Thursday for allegedly utilising user data for commercial purposes without their explicit consent, a violation of Italy’s Consumer Code.

According to the authority, both Apple and Google use user data collected through their services for promotional and commercial purposes without the user’s consent. According to a machine-translated copy of the press release, Apple “directly exploits the economic value” of user data it collects to “promote the sale of its products and/or those of third parties through its commercial platforms (App Store, iTunes Store, and Apple Books).”

According to the watchdog, neither Apple nor Google informs users in a timely and adequate manner that their data would be used for commercial purposes. According to the fine’s summary, Apple does not provide users with a mechanism to opt out of their data being used for commercial purposes. The following is taken from the news release (machine translation):

“In the case of Apple, however, the promotional activity is based on a method of acquiring consent to the use of user data for commercial purposes without providing the consumer with the possibility of a prior and express choice on sharing their data. This acquisition architecture, prepared by Apple, does not make it possible to exercise one’s will on the use of one’s data for commercial purposes. Therefore, the consumer is conditioned in the choice of consumption and undergoes the transfer of personal information, which Apple can dispose of for its own promotional purposes carried out in different ways.”

Apple does not “immediately and explicitly present the user with any indication on the collection and use of (their) data for commercial purposes,” according to the Italian regulator, when users create an Apple ID, which is required to access any of Apple’s services.

Apple only advises consumers that their data would be used to improve and personalise their experience, not for commercial objectives, according to the watchdog.

Apple does offer consumers a splash screen when they access the App Store, for example, informing them that Apple may use some of their data to “enable features, secure our services, or customise your experience.”

While the authority properly points out Apple’s refusal to acknowledge that data would be used for commercial reasons, it fails to provide examples or evidence that Apple has done so.

Apple’s privacy policy, which is available to all users on the company’s websites, claims that personal data will only be used to power its services, comply with local laws, prevent fraud, and communicate with consumers.

Apple’s privacy policy additionally stipulates that personal data may only be used for other purposes with the consent of the user, removing any uncertainty.

Apple was penalised over $150 million by Italy’s competition commission earlier this week for alleged anti-competitive actions with Beats and Amazon.

The penalties was imposed after an investigation revealed that Apple and Amazon were restricting Beats product sales through third-party resellers in order to hinder competition.

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