Apple Inc has agreed to give limited help to the Indian government to develop an anti-spam mobile application for its iOS platform, after refusing to do so based on privacy concerns, according to sources and documents were seen by Reuters.
The US tech giant has been locked in a tussle with India’s telecoms regulator for more than a year. Officials complained Apple dragged its feet on advising the government how to develop an app that would allow iPhone users to report unsolicited marketing texts or calls as spam.
The government app was launched on Google’s Android platform last year, but an industry source with direct knowledge of the matter said Apple pushed back on requests for an iOS version due to concerns that a government app with access to call and text logs could compromise its customers’ privacy.
Facing public criticism from the regulator, Apple executives flew to New Delhi last month and told officials the company would help develop the app, but only with limited capabilities, according to a government official aware of the matter. Apple’s executives have told India that its current iOS platform might not allow for some of the government’s requests, such as making call logs available within the app that would allow users to report them as spam, the official said.
“They (Apple) will help develop an app which, to an extent, can solve the requirements,” said the official. An Apple spokesman confirmed that the new iOS features to combat spam text messages would help the government build the app, but did not comment on the app’s potential inability to access call logs for reporting spam, as the Android version does. The spokesman said Apple had not changed its stance on privacy.
Apple’s stand-off with the regulator comes at a time when it is seeking greater access in India, the world’s third-largest smartphone market. The company has been lobbying the government for tax breaks to expand its phone assembly operations in the country, where it reported doubling its revenue versus the previous year for the quarter ending September 30.
Balancing growth and market share with protecting customer privacy has become a defining challenge for global tech companies such as Apple, which regularly clash with governments over allowing access to content on their devices, especially for law enforcement needs.
“This has now become more of an ego tussle between Apple and the regulator,” said Neil Shah of Hong Kong-based technology research firm Counterpoint Research. He added that Apple was unlikely to agree to any requests specific to India because of the precedent that would set.
The chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) RS Sharma said he was unhappy with Apple for not responding swiftly to the government’s requests. “We’ve told them they are harming their consumers,” Sharma told Reuters in an interview. “I hope good sense prevails upon them.” Apple did not comment on TRAI’s criticism but said that it had taken time to develop a privacy-friendly solution.