US senators urge FTC to investigate Apple for ‘turning online advertising into an intense surveillance system’

In a letter sent today to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Lina Khan, four U.S. lawmakers said the FTC should “investigate the role of Apple and Google in transforming online advertising into a system of intense surveillance”, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Apple and Google “knowingly facilitated harmful practices by creating advertising-specific tracking identifiers in their mobile operating systems,” says the letter, which was signed by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Cory. Booker (D-New Jersey), as well as U.S. Representative Sara Jacobs (D-California).

Since the release of iOS 14.5 in April 2021, Apple has required apps to ask for permission before tracking a user’s activity on other companies’ apps and websites, as part of a feature called App Tracking Transparency. If a user selects the “Ask the app not to track” option, the app cannot access the device identifier for advertisers (IDFA). On earlier versions of iOS, however, IDFA access was enabled by default.

“Until recently, however, Apple enabled this tracking ID by default and required consumers to dig into confusing phone settings to disable it,” the letter reportedly said, adding that “these IDs have fueled the unregulated market for data brokers”.

Given that Apple already implemented app tracking transparency last year, it’s unclear whether a potential FTC investigation would result in any further changes to the company’s current policies. The Wall Street Journal said representatives from the FTC, Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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