Apple Warns Chinese Tech Companies Not to Bypass Application Tracking Transparency Rules

Apple Cracks Down on Chinese Tech Companies Working on Ways to Bypass Application Tracking Rules and Transparency Reports Financial Times.

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Starting with iOS 14.5, Apple plans to start requiring app developers to obtain express user permission before accessing an iPhone’s Advertising ID or IDFA, and Earlier this week, reports suggested that the state-backed China Advertising Association was testing a tool to circumvent Apple’s rules.

Apple on Thursday sent warnings to at least two Chinese app developers using methods to track app usage without user permission. “We found that your app collects information about users and devices to create a unique identifier for the user’s device,” reads the email from Apple, which states that the developer must update the app to comply with App Store rules within 14 days or risk deleting it from the app store.

According to Financial Times, the developer of the app in question was using a tool called CAID, developed by the aforementioned China Advertising Association. The China Advertising Association said this week that CAID was not “in opposition” to Apple’s privacy policy, but that this may not be correct given the warnings Apple sent out today.

A Chinese marketing industry veteran said Financial Times that “companies big and small” in China are all considering CAID, but Apple’s recent actions “will end this testing.” Some of the biggest Chinese tech companies, such as Baidu, ByteDance, and Tencent, all test or implement CAID to identify users.

ByteDance, for example, recommended developers to use its SDK to issue CAID1 and CAID2 credentials. One is based on a user’s IP address and the other is based on the phone’s IMEI, which is a unique identification number. CAID1 and CAID2 are in violation of Apple’s policies because they do not ask for user permission before collecting this data. ByteDance also recommended that developers use “fingerprint and probabilistic matching” to identify users, which also violates “App Store” guidelines for transparency in application tracking.

The China Advertising Association said it is developing additional services that will collect and store users’ personal data in order to create a “fingerprint” for each person. Any application that uses the CAID system will collect user data and send it to a central server to create a CAID that will be used for cross-application user identification. The CAA claims that users can turn off CAID, but according to Apple’s definitions, this is not allowed in the first place.

Technical experts say Chinese apps plan to tweak their apps in “many ways” to overtake Apple’s App Store review team, with one likening it to a game of “chat and mouse”. Apple has repeatedly stated that apps that ignore user preferences for ad tracking will be rejected, which could lead to difficulties with Chinese companies and the Chinese government in the future.

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