Here’s a new one: Apple threatens European ‘digital sovereignty’

The scourge of nationalism spreads its tentacles into the World Wide Web.

From William Gallagher’s “EU carriers want Apple’s Private Relay blocked” posted Monday on AppleInsider:

Four European carriers have written to the European Commission claiming that Apple’s Private Relay in iOS 15 undermines “digital sovereignty,” and that it should be stopped.

Apple’s Private Relay, currently still in beta, is a VPN-like service for iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey, which shields users from having their precise location data revealed. It has already been revealed that Apple is not implementing the feature in all countries, and now European carriers are asking for local exclusion too.

A letter to the European Commission, sent in August 2021 and now seen by The Telegraph, four carriers have raised their objections. T-Mobile, Orange, Vodafone, and Telefonica, jointly say that Apple’s service “will have significant consequences in terms of undermining European digital sovereignty…”

Apple could potentially be prevented from implementing Private Relay if the company is classified as a “digital gatekeeper” under the EU’s Digital Markets Act. However, that act, already much delayed, has yet to be approved by European governments.

My take: Nation states vs. megacap multinationals; we should have seen this coming. Someone in a comment stream somewhere asked how Apple’s Private Relay is different from, say, ExpressVPN? Answer: ExpressVPN is not in a billion pockets, y’all.

16 Comments

  1. Bart Yee said:
    Here we are seeing the EU telecoms complaining about blocking their ability to get location data, data that they may be selling or monetizing. How the hell does that threaten “digital sovereignty” other than potentially deny location surveillance by telecoms, or by extension, the state? Should the next thing be ban iMessages because telecoms can’t charge per text? (I know, don’t give them ideas).

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    January 10, 2022
  2. Bart Yee said:
    Here’s a nice reply by a Euro resident:

    FjordCruiser said:
    “As someone who lives in a European country (but not one that is a member of the E.U.) I am getting sick of the foot stamping and demands that Apple constantly has to adjust how it does business here… I love being a citizen of the applesphere but I wish Apple would show more guts and stand up to the ridiculous demands that the E.U. Is regularly pulling out of the hat! I can fully understand why so many folks in European Union countries are becoming disheartened by the shenanigans of the E.U. mandarins, they are demanding too many petty changes in the way companies like Apple conduct their business in member states. I don’t always agree with everything Apple does or says but the E.U. mandarins need to take a chill pill and concentrate on the serious matters that have a negative impact on the citizens of European Union member states… I love being the owner of iPhone 13 Pro Max, Apple Watch Series 7 45mm Cellular, and AirPods Pro!“

    Couldn’t agree more. If we have EU friends of the blog, can we have their perspective?

    6
    January 10, 2022
    • Jonny T said:
      Amen to that comment. The EU should be leading and encouraging positive technological development, not trying to bring down everything non-EU. Christine Lagarde and Magrethe Vestager both need to be replaced.

      And, the Digital Markets Act will need a miracle to become law – too many different views on it within the EU countries…

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      January 10, 2022
  3. Tommo_UK said:
    I think the importance of the underlying narrative is being missed in the arguments about how right or wrong it might be.

    Rightly or wrongly, Apple is facing anti trust and charges of abusing its position all over the world, including the UK, EU, India, and China. Its position in the US keeps coming under scrutiny too.

    This shouldn’t be taken lightly. Especially India, where Apple has just hauled up its new manufacturing partners for poor labour conditions, the company is now being investigated for abusing its dominant market position with the App Store. Don’t forget that India is the world’s software engineering sweatshop which represents a huge part of India’s growing economy.

    Coincidence? I think not.

    Apple is not playing this well and is mounting weak defences akin to Microsoft when Windows dominated as the development platform many years ago. Look how that ended.

    For this of who don’t remember those days, Apple was the liberator. Now, from a regulatory point of view, Apple is the behemoth charging 30% fees for a walled garden, and constantly fighting fires to do with poor labour practices and now the App Store “rip off.”.

    Personally I am shocked at TC’s ineptitude in managing this, especially the situation in India, given the country’s key strategic role in reducing dependency on China long term.

    Watching with interest but wary of seeing a story like this spiral out of control. Regulators have a nasty habit of following one another, so with Apple now under such scrutiny by so may regulators, the risk is real and tangible. Given the contribution from services and the App Store to Apple’s earnings, this risk should not be dismissed in a typical “those stupid foreigners” manner.

    No they don’t understand, they exist to protect their markets and Apple is a prime target. Optics are worsening and Apple need to get a grip.

    I’m afraid Apple Corporate is taking its eye off the ball.

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    January 10, 2022
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      Tommo_UK —

      “…Apple is the behemoth charging 30% fees for a walled garden…”

      One chooses to reside in the garden.

      There are costs to enjoy the garden.

      A majority of app fees are at 15%.

      Most apps are free and can be easily utilized as such.

      2
      January 10, 2022
      • Tommo_UK said:
        Kirk

        My point was ignore the rationale and the justification and look at the unnecessary shit storm created instead. Regulators and other interested parties often working in cahoots will do whatever it takes to demonise Apple now they’re on a roll and see both prestige and profit from getting a win over the company.

        This isn’t about who is right or wrong. It’s about perception, We’re eyes wide open inside the walled garden. Some of us were even around when the walled garden was built for us and appreciate. The majority aren’t and weren’t though, and its those peoples opinion you have to factor in, plus self serving bureaucrats, corrupt businesspeople with an axe to ground working in cahoots with them, and an ever-ongoing bias against Apple which has been remarkably absent for the last decade but seems to be making a return with a vengeance on multiple fronts which are at the core of Apple’s ecosystem and broad moat advantage.

        I don’t think this is a coincidence.

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        January 10, 2022
  4. Jerry Doyle said:
    I find it difficult to see how Apple’s private relay targeted to provide me a higher level of security from those who strive to develop a profile of me based on my browsing navigation history is viewed anything but favorable by users and by consumers of Apple products. There is nothing, NADA, sinister about this consumer oriented service.

    Apple is not abusing its position by affording me, the consumer, more privacy and security from prying eyes. Such allegations are ludicrous! I prefer others not develop a personal profile of my navigation browsing habits so as to take measures, methods, or means to target me in any way. I welcome, I embrace, I wrap myself in the armor of Apple, in the protective shield of the wall-garden to conduct my business without prying eyes developing a commercial, psychological or any kind of personal profile of my browsing behavioral habits. If Apple doesn’t look after me, then who? The government? The phone carriers? The social media platforms? Or worse, the EU commission?

    Government officials are suppose to answer to their constituents and it is time that constituents start weighing in on matters such as these, when it comes to enhance privacy and security of our data and personal information.

    4
    January 10, 2022
  5. David Emery said:
    I wasn’t aware that “Europe” is a sovereign entity. EU likes to play that way, but the EU is NOT A sovereign nation.

    All this piling on Apple strikes me as just sour grapes, particularly from European telecons. It’s mostly a tax grab.

    A lot of websites bastardize the EU’s generally valid GDPR. Some won’t work if you reject cookies. Others require you to reassert your cookie preference every day (unless, of course, you accept all their tracking cookies.) And of course, some US websites won’t let you access from Europe under any circumstances. At least those websites are consistent with the intent of GDPR. So maybe Europe should spend more time enforcing that regulation.

    2
    January 10, 2022
    • Tommo_UK said:
      David, it is not a sovereign entity (although it behaves like one when it suits it) but in certain domains it pools authority – especially when it involves the sacred “Single Market.”

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      January 10, 2022
  6. Tommo_UK said:
    Stop sticking your heads in the sand. Some for you remind me of Paul Thurrot ex-Windows fanatic (and neverendum payola nay sayer of Apple in the face if the opposite evidence).

    There’s no point getting angry at the narrative. It IS building on several fronts, all to do with abuse of power, anti-trust, labour conditions, and monopolistic behaviour. However shockingly misguided it might be, it is where it is.

    Don’t blame bureaucrats for doing their job when Apple Corporate haven’t been risk managing their decisions.

    This is an unfolding global PR nightmare which will hit the bottom line unless something is done about it PDQ.

    The solution is straightforward. Trying to understand Apple’s weird inability to grasp its compounding errors is not.

    I can’t think of a more toxic environment for the world’s largest and most innovative company to do business in than during a pandemic with regulators “Working From Home” and nothing better to do than WhatsApp one another and trump up interest conspiracy theories about Apple while they desperately try to skim money or concessions from the company.

    That the private relay function (privacy defending VPN by any other name) feature should even figure on the radar of any regulator is a sign of a witch hunt well underway as this bad news train trundles on.

    2
    January 10, 2022
    • Jonny T said:
      You aren’t talking about Nokia now…

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      January 10, 2022
    • John Konopka said:
      “ That the private relay function (privacy defending VPN by any other name) feature should even figure on the radar of any regulator is a sign of a witch hunt well underway as this bad news train trundles on.”

      To be fair, the article says that four carriers have raised this subject, it is not a proposal from any government, unless I’m reading this wrong.

      0
      January 10, 2022
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      Tommo_UK —

      Your call-out does not fall on deaf ears.

      It’s akin to a cancer where one can do their level-best to avoid it — manage it once contracting it — or be severely compromised in spite of it.

      As a cancer does, only time will tell.

      1
      January 10, 2022
  7. Lalit Jagtap said:
    I think governments have become more toxic, and mega corporations like Apple have to do delicate dance to balance it actions. My conclusion is Apple leadership knows it is managing “pseudo digital nation” where its citizens (aka customers) have more faith in the Apple than its own sovereign government.
    My intuition is Apple PR and Legal teams know what’s up against, and will have to practice and apply new ways to deal with this chaos created by government forces.
    This chaos is because not many government forces have understood, and willing to adapt to our new digital world. The security and privacy is important to everyone whether in China, India or anywhere else on this earth. It is no doubt that Apple is among few mega corps who care for its customers digital security and digital privacy.

    2
    January 10, 2022

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