Noyb’s complaints were brought against Apple’s use of a tracking code, known as the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), that is automatically generated on every iPhone when it is set up.
The code, stored on the device, makes it possible to track a user’s online behaviour and consumption preferences – vital in allowing companies to send targeted adverts.
“Apple places codes that are comparable to a cookie in its phones without any consent by the user. This is a clear breach of European Union privacy laws,” Noyb lawyer Stefano Rossetti said.
Rossetti referred to the EU’s e-Privacy Directive, which requires a user’s consent before installation and using such information.
Apple said in response that it “does not access or use the IDFA on a user’s device for any purpose”.
It said its aim was to protect the privacy of its users and that the latest release of its iOS 14 operating system gave users greater control over whether apps could link with third parties for the purposes of targeted advertising.
The Californian tech giant said in September it would delay plans to launch iOS 14 until early next year.
Apple accounts for one in every four smartphones sold in Europe, according to Counterpoint Research.
The claims were made on behalf of a German and a Spanish consumer and handed to the Spanish data protection authority and its counterpart in Berlin, said Noyb.
Spain’s privacy protection agency confirmed it received a complaint from Noyb against Apple but declined to comment.
The Berlin agency had no comment. In Germany, each federal state has its own data protection authority.
Noyb said its claims were based on the 2002 e-Privacy Directive that allows national authorities to impose fines autonomously, avoiding lengthy proceedings it faced in its case against Facebook that was based on the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The GDPR regime launched in 2018 included a mandatory cooperation mechanism among national authorities, which Noyb says has slowed progress.
Rossetti said the action aimed to establish a clear principle that “tracking must be the exception, not the rule”.
Apple, responding, said: “Our practices comply with European law and support and advance the aims of the GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive, which is to give people full control over their data.”