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WhatsApp criticizes Apple’s new app privacy labels over iMessage inconsistency

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‘We think labels should be consistent across first and third party apps’

Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

WhatsApp has hit back at Apple over its new privacy labels for apps in the App Store, Axios reports, arguing that it’s unfair that they don’t appear to cover the pre-installed first-party service iMessage, since it’s not available on the App Store. The Facebook-owned messaging service reportedly submitted its privacy label information to Apple on Monday, and it has published an FAQ outlining what each label means in terms of the service’s data collection, and why it needs this information.

“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,” WhatsApp told Axios in a statement. Although it said giving users easy-to-read privacy information is “a good start,” it added that “it’s important people can compare these ‘privacy nutrition’ labels from apps they download with apps that come pre-installed, like iMessage.”

Apple first announced the new privacy labels feature as part of a host of new privacy features at WWDC 2020. Likening them to the nutrition labels used on packaged groceries, the company said the feature should provide app users with more information about the data being collected on them. As of December 8th, developers are required to provide the information when submitting new apps and updates, however Axios notes that it’s unclear when they’ll start appearing on the App Store.

Apple has since clarified that its own apps will be offer similar labels when they roll out; those apps that aren’t in the App Store, like Messages, will provide privacy information in a similar format on Apple’s website.

Facebook has also been critical of other aspects of Apple’s privacy push this year, like its requirement that developers show a warning and ask for permission to collect a user’s Identification for Advertisers (IDFA) starting with iOS 14. This is an identifier which helps advertisers target their ads. In response, Facebook said it would stop collecting IDFA information through its apps, in a move that would “severely impact” its ad network.

“This is not a change we want to make, but unfortunately Apple’s updates to iOS 14 have forced this decision,” Facebook said at the time, “We know this may severely impact publishers’ ability to monetize through Audience Network on iOS 14, and, despite our best efforts, may render Audience Network so ineffective on iOS 14 that it may not make sense to offer it on iOS 14 in the future.”

Apple later announced that it would be delaying the launch of the privacy feature until “early next year” to allow developers to make the necessary changes.

Update, December 9th, 5:25pm: Apple has clarified that its own apps will also offer privacy labels in the App Store, with apps that aren’t available to download directly offering similar information on its website.