Apple defeats attempt by TikTok and others to bypass App Tracking Transparency in China

Apple has successfully defeated an attempt by TikTok and others to bypass App Tracking Transparency in China.

Chinese tech giants believed that Apple wouldn’t dare to block popular apps like TikTok and QQ, but Apple apparently called their bluff …


Apple allows developers to anonymously track users using a system known as Apple’s Identifier For Advertisers (IDFA). This allows advertisers to track that the same person saw an ad for their product within a particular app, and subsequently visited their website.

Apple designed IDFA to be a privacy-protecting tool, because it doesn’t reveal the actual identify of a user, only a unique code assigned to them. However, the company subsequently decided it should go further and let customers choose whether or not they are tracked at all.

With App Tracking Transparency, developers need to get user permission to access IDFA. Only 4% of Americans choose to do so, and the global opt-in rate is only 12%.

Chinese tech giants had hoped to avoid this by switching instead to CAID: the Chinese Advertising ID. Apple’s rules explicitly forbid this type of workaround, but large developers were gambling on Apple being afraid to ban popular apps that might limit the appeal of iPhones in China.

Apple protects App Tracking Transparency in China

The Financial Times reports that CAID had placed Apple in a very difficult position, as blocking it might also annoy the Chinese government.

Eric Seufert, a consultant, had said the co-ordinated attempt placed Apple in “an impossible situation”. He said Apple would have to choose between rejecting CAID, risking the ire of Beijing, or taking the embarrassing decision of allowing it and conceding that the world’s most populous country played by different rules. “Apple has a catastrophe on its hands,” he wrote on Twitter.

However, Apple did indeed enforce its ban on CAID, preventing the workaround from being used, and killing demand for it.

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,” said Alex Bauer, head of product marketing at adtech group Branch. “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.”