Privacy wins for iPhone users with Apple’s new policy

In coordination with other Chinese technology companies, TikTok tried to circumvent Apple’s App Tracking Transparency measures, but Apple called their bluff. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency measures give iPhone users control over which apps can track their internet usage, and which apps cannot, so apps including TikTok and QQ switched to Chinese Advertising ID, or CAID, under the belief that Apple couldn’t block them. It was based on the assumption that Apple could not ban apps incredibly popular in China. This was exactly what Apple did, by blocking updates for apps involving CAID in the App Store. Chinese tech firms including Baidu, Tencent and Bytedance have been working to develop a new way of tracking iPhone users for advertising purposes, according to the Financial Times.

Apple’s efforts to block app updates from popular Chinese tech companies such as Baidu, Tencent, and Bytedance are a big step in the data privacy campaign. The move also nips in the bud any potential criticisms Apple would have faced if it had allowed the alternate tracking mechanism to remain in place in China. Similarly, it may have led to tech companies in other countries implementing similar measures, resulting in a watering down of the App Tracking Transparency feature and a push for data privacy. A report from analytics firm Flurry Analytics found that only 15% of iPhone users globally have allowed apps to track them on their iPhones compared to the entire smartphone demographic, which had no control over how apps tracked them for advertising purposes. Only 6% of US citizens opt in, a drop from 8% almost two years ago. Chinese apps were previously warned by Apple not to circumvent its privacy rules.

This year, Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency measures for iPhone users that protect them from apps tracking them across other apps and websites without their explicit permission. The user could deny apps permission to track their usage, which would restrict the amount of data that these apps could collect and then serve targeted advertisements. Many tech platforms, including Facebook, rely on online ads for revenue. In light of attempts made with CAID, some Chinese tech companies may also be affected.

When you open an app on your iPhone for the first time or after an update, you will be asked, “Do you allow XYZ to track your activity across all apps and websites of other companies?”At this point, you will have the choice of “Ask App not to Track” or “Allow”.

As a result of CAID’s development, apps can still track users across other apps and websites, even if the user selects “Ask App not to Track” on iOS’s default privacy layer. How does CAID work? “Shared platform identifiers, such as the IDFA on iOS and Google Advertising ID on Android, are perfectly suited to measuring digital ads. Because the same ID is available for all events, it’s easy to link ad touches with conversions,” says Alex Bauer, head of product marketing at Branch, in a column published by Adexchanger earlier this year. However, after Apple’s ATT policy goes into effect, IDFAs won’t be available in the vast majority of cases, which means these traditional measurement flows won’t work anymore. “CAID is essentially an open standard meant to replace IDFA,” he said. The CAID tool was developed by the Chinese Advertising Association, which is backed by the Chinese government. Apple maintains that any app that violates its policies will be removed from the App Store.

The global online advertising market is in trouble. Additionally, Google has begun working on measures similar to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency for Android users. If a user opts out of tracking, advertisers and apps that request advertising IDs on Android phones will instead get a string of zeros when Google’s version of the app tracking prevention comes into effect. Developers are now being informed of the intended changes by Google. Till now, users have been able to also opt out of personalized advertising on Android (Settings > Google > Ads > Opt out of Ads Personalization) which restricted apps from fetching your advertising ID to serve personalized ads. Besides usage analytics, these IDs are also used for fraud prevention, especially for payment apps that link device IDs to payment methods.

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