Apple fends off Chinese attempt to get around App Tracking Transparency


App Tracking Transparency will be part of iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5 and tvOS 14.5. It’s already showing up in betas.
App Tracking Transparency stops developers tracking users without their permission.
Graphic: Cult of Mac

Apple has thwarted an attempt by multiple Chinese tech companies to get around its App Tracking Transparency feature, the Financial Times reports Monday.

The group of tech companies includes Baidu, Tencent, and TikTok parent company ByteDance. They supposedly worked with a couple of Beijing companies to find a new way to get around Apple’s new privacy measures.

However, Apple blocked updates to several apps that included the workaround, called the Chinese Advertising ID (CAID). In doing so, it enforced its rules in a way that may have surprised the companies in question.

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature, introduced in iOS 14.5, requires developers to gain permission from users before tracking them across websites and other apps. CAID was considered a workaround to this crackdown. In March, Apple said it would enforce its new rules strenuously. But some expected that Apple might turn a blind eye to some abuse in places like China. The FT noted in March that:

“Three people with knowledge of briefings between Apple and developers … said the Cupertino, California-based company would be wary of taking strong action, despite a clear violation of its stated rules, if CAID has the support of China’s tech giants as well as its government agencies. Rich Bishop, chief executive of AppInChina, a leading publisher of international software in China, suggested that Apple might ‘make an exception for China’ because tech companies and the government are ‘so closely aligned.’”

Calling China’s bluff

It seems Apple has done nothing of the sort, though. It has rejected CAID, at the risk of upsetting Beijing. That’s despite the fact that Apple has had to kowtow to China on several previous occasions, obliging by local laws. The Financial Times notes that “Apple made its position clear shortly afterwards by blocking updates to several Chinese apps that it had caught enlisting CAID in their software updates from its App Store. Several people in China and Hong Kong said that, following Apple’s retaliation, CAID lost support and the whole project failed to gain traction.”

“The Chinese app ecosystem was collectively baiting the bull with CAID, under the theory that Apple couldn’t afford to ban every major app in the market,” Alex Bauer, head of product marketing at adtech group Branch, told the FT. “Apple called their bluff, and seems to have reasserted control over the situation by aggressively rapping knuckles on early adopters, before the consortium gained any real momentum.”

Source: Financial Times


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