Apple is set to begin enforcing its App Tracking Transparency changes as of the release of iOS 14.5. All apps that access an iPhone’s ad identifier or IDFA will need to ask a user’s permission before tracking.
Unfortunately, a new report by the Financial Times says the state-backed China Advertising Association (CAA) is currently testing a tool that bypasses the new Apple privacy rules, allowing companies to continue tracking users without their consent.
The new user tracking method, call CAID, is reportedly undergoing testing by tech firms and advertisers in China. FT says TikTok owner ByteDance has already provided its developers with an 11-page guide suggesting that advertisers “use the CAID as a substitute if the user’s IDFA is unavailable.”
While Apple did not comment directly on the use of CAIS to get around the iOS 14.5 App Tracking Transparency rules but told the publication that it does not grant exceptions.
“The App Store terms and guidelines apply equally to all developers around the world, including Apple,” the company told FT. “We believe strongly that users should be asked for their permission before being tracked. Apps that are found to disregard the user’s choice will be rejected.”
However, two people briefed on the issue told the newspaper that Apple is aware of the tool and seems to have so far turned a blind eye to its use.
Apple reportedly has the ability to detect when an app uses the CAID tool and could block such apps from its China App Store. However, such a move could cause a confrontation between all involved parties if CAID is supported by the Chinese government and China’s tech firms.
Three people with knowledge of briefings between Apple and developers also 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.”
In other words, Apple may once again kneel before its Chinese masters.
While it is still unclear how CAID works, at least one company – Beijing-based data privacy company Digital Union – believes the system could actually meet Apple’s rules, as CAID may not uniquely identify users.