Chinese apps could track iPhone users without permission, bypassing iOS 14.5 security feature

chinese apps bypass tracking transparency
Apple has been receiving a lot of backlash from Facebook lately for choosing to give customers full control over which apps can track their activity in the new App Tracking Transparency feature, coming with iOS 14.5 this month. ATT will require all apps to ask for explicit permission from iPhone and iPad owners before the apps can obtain access to the unique IDFA number (Identification For Advertisers) assigned to each device for data tracking and ad targeting.

However, it seems developers in China have spent less time complaining and campaigning and more time brainstorming for ways to sneak around the transparency requirement—and they seem to have been successful. The Financial Times reports, as noted by AppleInsider, that the China Advertising Association (supported by the government, unsurprisingly) has invented a shrewd way to tack their own tracking ID's onto Apple devices even if they are denied access to the Apple-issued IDFA number. CAA's alternative to IDFA is called CAID and is nearly at its release stage.

According to FT, Apple is well aware of the issue but has not acknowledged it in any way. It seems it is wary of taking measures because CAID is backed by both China's government agencies and tech giants, and it is not in Apple's financial interest to provoke any animosity in its relationship with them. After all, Apple has been killing it in China with sales lately with the iPhone 12 5G lineup, and likely isn't keen on compromising that in the future.

CAA are defending CAID's legitimacy, claiming that the CAID solution “does not stand in opposition to Apple’s privacy policy” and that the association “is currently actively communicating with Apple, and the [CAID] solution has not yet been formally implemented." 

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The system is currently known to be undergoing testing by several developers in China, namely ByteDance (creator of TikTok) and Tencent. However, international advertising companies (including a French gaming group) are already applying to use CAID, which is set to be publicly released as soon as this week.

Dina Srinivasan, a US-based antitrust scholar, told FT: “The big picture is that there is simply too much money at stake. There will always be an arms race to track consumers. Only legislation can make it stop."

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