Apple Says Senate’s Massive-Tech Laws Would Weaken Its Consumer-Privateness Push

Apple inc

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warns that Senate legislation aimed at curbing big tech companies would weaken a privacy tool launched last year that has already stung Facebook,

Snapchat and other online advertising companies rely on user data to target messages.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday will debate a bipartisan bill called the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which proponents say aims to protect digital competition. The legislation aims to limit the power of the largest US tech companies, including Apple and Amazon.com inc,

Google parent alphabet inc

and the meta platforms of Facebook inc

Apple’s hugely profitable app store business has been in the crosshairs after years of pressure from competitors who complained it was cutting too much revenue generated through the app marketplace. The iPhone maker said efforts by Congress to stop it from banning “sideloading” — the practice of downloading software onto its phones outside of the App Store’s protection — would expose users to security threats because those apps aren’t vetted.

Apple reiterated those claims Tuesday, according to a letter to the committee chairs seen by the Wall Street Journal. However, the company also argued that the legislation would “benefit those who have acted irresponsibly with user data” and who have opposed a program launched almost a year ago called App Tracking Transparency. The initiative requires third-party apps to obtain user consent to track their activity online.

Apple has been trying to differentiate itself from other tech giants as some US lawmakers seek to limit the companies’ acquisitions or the reach of large platforms.


Photo:

Richard B. Levine/Zuma Press

“Consumer response to ATT has been overwhelmingly positive, but some of the largest social media and advertising companies have complained very publicly about the impact of these new privacy measures on their profits,” Apple lobbyist Timothy Powderly wrote in the letter.

A spokeswoman for US Senator Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights, called Apple’s letter misleading and said in a statement that the legislation included provisions to protect privacy and security. Ms. Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“All of Apple’s arguments about ‘sideloading’ really boil down to a desperate attempt to preserve their app store monopoly by charging huge fees from companies they compete with,” their office said in a statement. “To be clear, this multi-trillion-dollar company is more than capable of protecting privacy and security while still providing consumers with greater choice by allowing competition.”

While Mr. Powderly didn’t name any specific companies, Facebook had publicly opposed the launch of the privacy tool, arguing that it would harm small businesses that rely on targeted advertising. Since the tool’s inception, Meta and Snapchat have had parent Snap inc

reported quarterly results that have slowed.

“Under the pending bills, this pro-consumer program would be at risk as it would be extremely difficult to prove that ATT is ‘necessary,’ ‘narrowly tailored’ and that no less restrictive safeguards are available to enforce user consent to tracking receive. ‘ wrote Mr. Powderly. “Conversely, companies that collect data would argue that the mechanism currently in use to obtain user consent for tracking – a line buried in their terms of service – is sufficient.”

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His letter is the latest example of Apple’s efforts to distinguish itself among tech giants as some US lawmakers seek to limit the companies’ acquisitions or the reach of large platforms. In October, Chief Executive Tim Cook warned of sweeping legislative changes that he said would unfairly lump companies together. Regulators and policymakers around the world are also scrambling to curb Apple’s power.

“The industry is not monolithic,” said Mr. Cook, speaking at a tech conference in Salt Lake City at the time. “These are very different segments and very different markets … We’re not in the social media business, for example, and so I think you have to take each one and make sure that each regulation addresses all the issues that you think about.” Know that it exists, and don’t write regulations that are so far-reaching that they will not only achieve the goal, but everyone else at the same time.”

As the Senate committee prepares for its hearing this week, Mr Cook has been communicating with members to argue against the legislation, according to a person familiar with the effort. Punchbowl News previously reported on the interactions.

In April, Apple began requiring apps to request user tracking permissions. Now tech giants and small businesses alike are saying they’re losing money because of the new privacy policy. The WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains why these costs could be passed on to consumers. Illustration: Rafael Garcia

write to Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com

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