Facebook Preparing Antitrust Lawsuit Against Apple for ‘Unfair’ Approach to Privacy and Default Apps

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Facebook is preparing to launch a lawsuit against Apple for alleged anticompetitive behaviour, particularly regarding App Tracking Transparency and iMessage, according to The Information.

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The antitrust lawsuit would contend that Apple has abused its power in the smartphone industry by enforcing App Store rules that Apple itself supposedly does not have to follow. Within this, the case would argue rules such as the requirement that developers use Apple’s own in-app payment service, make it harder to compete in areas such as gaming, messaging, and shopping.

iOS 14‘s App Tracking Transparency feature, which allows users to opt-out of being tracked via an on-screen prompt, is believed to be central to Facebook’s case. Facebook alleges that the prompts are unfair because they do not appear for Apple’s own apps, offering it a competitive advantage. However, Apple’s apps do not track users or share data for advertising purposes, so this seems to be a bemusing foundation for the lawsuit.

In addition to App Tracking Transparency, Facebook is expected to focus on Apple’s refusal to allow third-party messaging apps to be installed as the default option on iPhones and iPads. The company lobbied Apple to allow users to choose Facebook’s Messenger app as the default on iOS instead of iMessage in September last year, and it now claims that Apple disallows other messaging apps to be set as default in an effort to prevent people from switching to competing smartphone brands.

Facebook has also reportedly considered inviting other companies to participate in its prospective lawsuit against Apple. A natural ally would seemingly be Epic Games, which has been embroiled in a legal battle with Apple since Fortnite was removed from the App Store for breaking Apple’s rules.

The news appears to be a considerable escalation in tensions between the two companies, which have become increasingly fraught in recent months. For example, in December, Facebook paid for a series of full-page advertisements in national newspapers to berate ‌iOS 14‌’s App Tracking Transparency, saying that it harms small businesses.

During Facebook’s quarterly earnings call with investors yesterday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Apple’s business is increasingly focused “on gaining share in apps and services against us and other developers.” He continued, “so Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own.”

While Facebook may be seeking monetary damages, the preferable outcome is believed to be significant changes to Apple’s platform restrictions and ‌App Store‌ rules. The Information notes that in spite of Facebook’s legal preparations, it may yet decide to not bring the case to court.

One factor within this is said to be considerable internal dissent within Facebook itself. Executives are facing “internal resistance” from some employees over the prospect of deepening its public campaign against Apple with a lawsuit. Specifically, some employees are apparently concerned that Facebook is “not a compelling victim,” especially given the company’s own antitrust cases and mishandling of user data.

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