Apple says a complaint by Tile in the European Union accusing it of anticompetitive behavior is without merit. Because of course it does. Apple has some of the deepest pockets in tech, so the legal battle is worth the expense, even if Apple loses. Because the cost of an antitrust fine is higher than whatever its lawyers are costing. Tile makes Bluetooth tracking devices that can be attached to a wallet or purse and, thanks to its app and community, can help you hunt them down in the event they go missing.
The crux of Tile's complaint is that iOS by default doesn't allow independent apps to continuously monitor a user's location unless they grant it express permission to do so, whereas Apple's own FindMy tracking app does have that permission by default. Tile's app needs continuous monitoring of location permissions so that it can alert you before you mistakenly leave your device behind somewhere.
Default on versus off — Apple previously blocked apps from continuously tracking a user's location but brought back the option in response to a complaint from Tile in the U.S. The company still believes that giving FindMy the permission by default is handing Apple a big advantage as it prepares to release its own tracking devices that will directly compete with Tile.
Apple, in Apple fashion, says this behavior in iOS is in the interest of protecting user privacy. “We strenuously deny the allegations of uncompetitive behavior that Tile is waging against us,” Apple said in a statement given to the Financial Times. “Consistent with the critical path we’ve been on for over a decade, last year we introduced further privacy protections that safeguard user location data. Tile doesn’t like those decisions so instead of arguing the issue on its merits, they’ve instead decided to launch meritless attacks."
Without merit? Not so fast — Tile's complaints might have seemed crazy before Apple accidentally leaked AirTags in an iOS how-to video, but now that's hard to argue. Default on for its own services and default off for others definitely seems sketchy. There certainly appears to be merit to Tile's argument, even in the face of Apple's position on privacy.
Apple's AirTags are expected to make things very difficult for Tile. Just like the Cupertino-based company's proprietary chips make its AirPods integrate with its products seamlessly, it's expected AirTags will work with all recent Apple devices, giving the company a huge advantage, especially in the first world where its products are practically ubiquitous.
Tile's not alone in its complaints — Another company to cry foul against Apple in Europe is Spotify, which says Apple's Music streaming service has an unfair advantage because it's installed on all iOS devices. Spotify also doesn't allow new users to subscribe through its iOS app, because doing so would force it to either pay Apple a cut of the subscription fee or charge users more to cover Apple's pound of flesh.
Microsoft famously got beaten up by the Department of Justice back in the '90s because it was pre-installing Internet Explorer on Windows machines with MSN as the default search engine, and made it difficult to install alternatives like Netscape. This looks a lot like history repeating itself. The likely result, though? Apple will release AirTags that will become the default tracking devices for Apple users and Tile will have to hope the Android community can keep it afloat... and that Google doesn't come out with tags of its own.