In the summer, during its WWDC 2020 keynote, Apple revealed a host of privacy-related improvements set to feature in iOS 14, which landed back in September.
Among them, an initiative that required all developers to provide a summary of the data their app collects, to be displayed to users on the App Store entry in a simple, easy-to-digest format.
However, while end users will likely benefit, not all app developers are enamored with the change. Facebook-owned messaging giant WhatsApp is the latest to hit out at the plans, which it has suggested are both anti-competitive and potentially misleading.
Apple iOS 14 privacy labels
At the heart of the debate is the fact that core Apple applications, such as iMessage, are installed automatically on the company’s devices. These apps cannot be uninstalled and therefore have no need of an App Store entry, where privacy information for other application types is set to be displayed.
“We think labels should be consistent across first and third party apps as well as reflect the strong measures apps may take to protect people’s private information,” said a WhatsApp spokesperson.
“While providing people with easy to read information is a good start, we believe it’s important people can compare these ‘privacy nutrition’ labels from apps they download with apps that come pre-installed.”
The company is also aggrieved about certain limitations of the new labelling system, which provides little room for nuance. Designed to be interpreted by anyone, Apple’s privacy labels group together applications whose approaches to data collection might differ wildly, WhatsApp claims.
“Our teams have submitted our privacy labels to Apple, but Apple’s template does not shed light on the lengths apps may go to to protect sensitive information. While WhatsApp cannot see people’s messages or precise location, we’re stuck using the same broad labels with apps that do.”
In response to the complaint, Apple has clarified that all first-party applications hosted on the App Store will offer up the same privacy information as third-party counterparts. Information about the few apps without App Store listings, meanwhile, will be displayed on the company’s website.
Apple has not suggested it plans to take any action to remedy concerns expressed by WhatsApp surrounding the potential for privacy labels to tar a diverse group of apps with the same broad brush.
As per guidance published by Apple, all developers were required to submit the relevant information about their app’s privacy practices by December 8. It is not yet clear when privacy labels will begin to appear on the App Store.