Invasion of Advertising: The Abuse of Shake Ads Violating User Rights


The Internet has become highly integrated into people’s lives today, with commercial profit activities such as advertising gradually occupying a larger proportion of daily life. Various social media platforms, service-oriented platforms, and businesses are all attempting to promote themselves more, leading to a richer variety of advertising applications and types. Among them, there is a type of advertising that can be called a Chinese specialty, known as Shake-Ads. Due to its highly sensitive detection, high-frequency triggering, and application akin to a monopolistic clause, shake ads have provoked disdain and resentment from countless users.

What is Shake-Ads?

Shake-to-open advertisements(Shake-Ads) are a type of ad that based on mobile devices and popup when apps are opened initially. This advertising format originated from splash screen ads. In the early days, due to limited mobile configurations and technology, there would be a few seconds of waiting time when opening apps, so manufacturers inserted promotional wallpapers here to fill the blank space and entertain users. Later, to increase revenue, this evolved into inserting splash screen ads. (Technology blind spot, 2023)

After China published policies restricting the click area of splash screen ads, Shake-Ads emerged. The inventor was Chao Chen, the deputy general manager of the platform operation center of Mango TV, a subsidiary of Hunan Satellite TV in China. He led a team to innovate and develop interactive methods such as “shake” and “slide.” At that time, due to the new advertising restrictions, the click-through rate of ads generally decreased. However, Chao Chen and his team’s “interactive advertising” lowered the interaction threshold, maintained the original click-through rate, and created a new advertising model(Chaomeihenmang, 2022). Shake-Ads are sensor-based advertisements that interact by sensing the magnitude of the phone’s shaking.

In 2023, a blogger named The eccentric technologist Dragging floor Liu tested the Shake-Ads of 30 software applications on the Chinese market using a sensor logger that can detect phone shaking data. The values ranged from 1.96 to 21 rad/s. Rad/s represents angular velocity, that is, radians per second, indicating the arc length the phone rotates in one second. The smaller the value, the smaller the magnitude required to trigger the shake-Ads, indicating a more sensitive ad response and a higher probability of triggering.

Among them, Bilibili, a video app similar to YouTube, had a trigger amplitude value of 21 rad/s, equivalent to the arm swing amplitude when people are running; while Tencent Video, another video app, had a trigger amplitude value of 2.1 rad/s, equivalent to the shivering amplitude when people are cold. The amplitude value of normal walking is approximately 3 rad/s, which means that some apps may be triggered instantly while people are walking normally, redirecting users from the page they intended to browse to an ad or another app.

There are some apps that allow users to disable the shake ad redirection feature in the settings, such as Hupu and Douban. However, most ads require manual closure or waiting for the ad time to end before smoothly entering the app.

This also brings up another point that many users find frustrating: some ads play tricks with the close button settings. Some ads have two close buttons, with one of them being fake. This is when users have to play a game of chance with the advertisers. If you’re lucky, you can successfully close the ad, but if you’re unlucky, you’ll be greeted with a new app.

Does shake-ads violate our digital right?

To answer this question, first, we need to understand what digital rights are.

When facing privacy issues, most people consider privacy rights to be very important, but at the same time, they may not be able to articulate exactly what privacy rights entail.

Digital rights refer to the extension of human rights in the digital realm. The political and regulatory choices related to digital technologies have profound impacts on freedom of expression, access to information, privacy and a range of other human rights related to development, culture and social equality among other areas(Karppinen, 2017). Digital rights can also be understood simply as the extension of human rights on the internet.

Gen Peng, General Manager of Beijing Hanhua Feitian Information Security Technology Co., Ltd., believes that the gyroscope is a type of sensor, and according to the “Application software user rights protection evaluation specification Over collection of personal information” released in 2021, apps should not exceed a reasonable range in analyzing and exploring the usage patterns, status, and data collected through sensors, such as reconstructing voice content (Telecommunications Terminal Industry Association, 2022). Therefore, platforms using shake ads are suspected of infringing on personal privacy. He believes that sensors, like permissions for contacts, cameras, albums, etc., should require user consent and authorization to access, and users should have the opportunity to authorize and revoke permissions.

However, Dingzhong Xiong, Chief Partner of Beijing Qinglv Law Firm, holds a different view. He believes that sensor information only shows the relative position and angle of the mobile device in space, and it is unlikely to constitute personal information, therefore not constituting an infringement.

Shake-Ads result in users needing to spend more time than before to enter the app they want to browse, reducing user experience. Moreover, users are automatically redirected to third-party platforms without permission. Furthermore, from the outset, most users are unwilling to accept this form of advertising, and major online platforms have not obtained user authorization.

Due to the large number of dissatisfied users, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China received numerous complaints and required 68 leading internet companies to rectify in 2021 (MIIT, 2021). Therefore, from the perspective of Chinese law, shake ads indeed violate users’ digital rights.

What have we done to regulate shake-ads?

According to Article 9 of the Consumer Rights Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China, consumers have the right to independently choose goods or services. Operators shall not set different prices or fees for the same goods or services under the same trading conditions without the consumer’s knowledge.

MIIT strictly regulates the triggering conditions of Shake-Ads: the acceleration setting for triggering jumps should not be less than 15m/s², the rotation angle should not be less than 35°, and the operation time should not be less than 3 seconds. The service supervision report released in 2021 showed that after the rectification was requested, the number of user complaints and reports of pop-up window information in the second quarter of the same year decreased by 50% compared to the previous quarter, and the problem of misleading users to click and jump to third-party pages decreased by 80% year-on-year.

However, the good times didn’t last long. Advertising companies and platforms increased the sensitivity of the accelerometer sensor on mobile phones to bypass the conditions specified by MIIT, causing slight shaking of the phone to be recognized as intense shaking, thus achieving a high jump rate.

In November 2023, Apple notified many domestic leading apps to remove gyroscope permissions and banned Shake-Ads. As the sole application distribution mechanism of Apple, App Store has the authority to review apps. Apple has developed a standard checklist for detection processes, inspecting apps by simulating the behavior of ordinary users. However, many apps target the IP address of Apple’s Shanghai office during the detection process. If the IP address of the reviewer is encountered, content that does not comply with the regulations will be hidden to evade inspection.

Similarly, domestic smartphone manufacturers in China have added separate gyroscope permissions in their settings to disable the shake ad sensors of certain apps. Xiaomi’s latest phones even introduced a new feature to skip ads instead of entering them. It is evident that the annoying nature of Shake-Ads has faced resistance from the mobile phone industry.

However, it is difficult to set a one-click option to disable gyroscope permissions because this feature was initially designed for convenient screen rotation and navigation functions, and disabling it entirely would affect the user experience of the phone. Moreover, because Shake-Ads are considered a unique feature in China, it is difficult to require international companies like Apple to design a separate gyroscope permission granting function when facing global users.

There are also restrictions from third-party software. Many third-party software targeting Shake-Ads were introduced in the Chinese market, with LiTiaotiao being the most famous among them. LiTiaotiao is a non-profit, internet-free software that operates by simulating the process of users closing Shake-Ads, but completes the operation at an extremely fast speed to achieve the appearance of ad-free content.

These third-party software received legal letters in 2023, claiming that they interfered with the platform’s operation model and profit methods, constituting unfair competition. Ultimately, LiTiaotiao won in the first instance but lost in the second. The reasons for the defeat are twofold: first, blocking ads violates business ethics and affects the normal business activities of the plaintiff platform, and the legitimacy of business activities cannot be judged solely based on user demand; second, the court believes that blocking ads affects consumer rights and interests because users cannot see the content of paid services, affecting the group of users who want to purchase VIP services.

In comparison, AdblockPlus (ABP), an ad blocking plugin in Germany, can skip ads on web pages and was sued accordingly. In 2015, the Frankfurt State Court ruled that this constituted unfair competition and issued a temporary injunction. However, in 2018, the German Supreme Court acquitted ABP, reasoning that users who want to see ads will not install it, and those who have installed it indicate their unwillingness to view ads. This is the user’s right to make independent choices.

As ordinary users, our options may only be to try to keep our phones stable when facing Shake-Ads or accept the reality of automatic redirection. Alternatively, we can seek legal support. A student named Xinyue Zhang from Wuhan University of China sued the company that owns the Meitu photo editing software in February 2023. She argued that the company infringed on her right to independent choice and compromised user personal information security by triggering Shake-Ads multiple times without her subjective knowledge and voluntary consent.

The reason is that the Meitu splash screen page has a direct “skip ad” button, and its “shake” ad function only uses the phone’s gyroscope to read the acceleration when shaking the phone, which is stored locally and not uploaded to the server. Zhang Xinyue also mentioned that the sensor information on the phone does not constitute sensitive personal information.

The first-instance judgment supported part of Zhang Xinyue’s lawsuit, ruling that Meitu infringed on her right to independent choice but did not actually compromise personal information security. The court ordered the company that owns Meitu to stop the infringement within seven days and set the interaction action parameters that trigger user redirection in compliance. Xinyue Zhang was awarded 1 yuan for data traffic loss.

At the same time, the court clarified that the shake splash screen ads are not prohibited by industry norms and did not support Zhang Xinyue’s request to cancel the “shake” splash screen ad format of Meitu.

However, are there any advantages to shake ads?

The role of cultural knowledge in advertising management is often underestimated (Pickton and Broderick, 2005). The knowledge gained through advertising is crucial for understanding how advertising practitioners establish commercial linkages for products and services (Nixon, 1997). However, despite the poor user experience and annoyance brought by Shake-Ads to countless users, Chen Chao and his team indeed made remarkable innovations from the perspective of advertising format.

According to Hackley, ‘the use and interpretation of research in advertising development is a major site of intra-account team conflict’ (2003: 318), and there was evidence of division around the incorporation of market research in the evaluation stage of the creative process. So, controversy is a relatively common and normal phenomenon in the innovation process of form and content.

However, it still needs to be pointed out that one of the widely praised aspects of Shake-Ads by industry insiders is their high conversion rate, which significantly boosts app visits. However, due to their annoying and harassing nature, the number of orders, ad impressions, and actual conversion rates have declined. Advertising agencies have historically had an ambivalent relationship with their clients, and the division between agency and client representatives is well established within advertising history (Frank, 1997). Essentially, while the promotional department achieves outstanding performance in KPI completion, the operations department responsible for conversion does not receive corresponding benefits.


It can be seen that MIIT has been continuously paying attention to internet advertising issues and constantly introducing new rectification requirements and guidelines for control. But as the saying goes, rules are made to be broken. Even if Shake-Ads disappear under policy restrictions, there will be more novel forms of advertising trying to capture the public’s attention. Or advertisers may collaborate with short video platform bloggers to insert hidden ads in short videos. If Shake-Ads are really completely eliminated by banning gyroscope permissions, then there will be a large number of other forms of ads utilizing the remaining sensors of the phone, such as magnetic ads, altitude ads, distance measurement ads, ambient light ads, etc. (Technology blind spot, 2023). Nowadays, many ads are hidden in content creation. For example, Chen Chao continues to develop slide ads: ads are interspersed between content, and when scrolling the screen, they will trigger ads and be guided to third-party platforms.

Currently, the main source of revenue for many video websites in China is through advertising, and the longer people participate, the more income they will generate (Suzor, Nicolas P, 2019), so it is reasonable for platforms to place ads. However, advertising placement also needs to consider user experience and digital rights. The several cases provided in the text have all experienced twists and turns, indicating that there are still many controversial areas regarding the application of digital rights and Shake-Ads.

Generally speaking, terms of service documents allocate a great deal of power to the operators. Particularly for large, corporate platforms, these terms of service are written in a way that is designed to safeguard their commercial interests (Suzor, Nicolas P, 2019). Ordinary users find it difficult to understand the logic of ad delivery and the principles of Shake-Ads, so platforms largely intrude into users’ personal space.

The Shake-Ads that jump between different platforms are the result of cooperation between various companies and platforms, which well reflects that platform/advertising decisions can have a powerful impact on society and the public. It is necessary to consider one’s own social influence before making innovative decisions similar to Shake-Ads.

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