With Android privacy sandbox, Google wants to ditch ad tracking but keep ads
On Wednesday, Google announced the start of a multi-year process to overhaul ad tracking on Android phones, moving the mobile platform down a path similar to that outlined by Apple’s blocking of trackers on iOS last year. .
Currently, Android devices are each assigned a unique identifier called an “advertising ID”, which is used to create an Android user profile that developers can use to target in-app advertisements. But when the new changes are implemented, the Advertising ID will be phased out in favor of alternative targeting mechanisms that Google says will be more favorable to user privacy. according to a blog post released Wednesday.
“Today we are announcing a multi-year initiative to build the Privacy sandbox on Android, with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions,” Anthony Chavez, vice president of product management on the Android Security and Privacy team, wrote in the post. “Specifically, these solutions will limit the sharing of user data with third parties and will work without cross-app identifiers, including advertising identifiers. We’re also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for secret data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs. »
Google began adding privacy measures around the Advertising ID last year, rolling out changes that allow users to remove their unique ID from the system and replace it with zeros once they choose to not be tracked. But the latest steps indicate that in the years to come, developers will have to use an entirely different system to mine user preference data.
Details are still unclear as to what exact form this will take, and Google said it will work with developers to determine the best approach in the meantime. An Android developer information pages About Privacy Sandbox currently lists four design proposals, including a topic and interest-based announcement system and an implementation of Chrome’s FLEDGE API to allow developers to target custom audiences without having to share user data with third parties.
While the comparisons to Apple’s blocking of iOS trackers are clear, Google’s strategy is also noticeably different, shaped by priorities dictated by both its business model and fears of triggering antitrust lawsuits.
Privacy measures introduced in iOS 14.5 – named App Tracking Transparency – forced apps to ask users for explicit permission to track activity on other companies’ apps and websites, with a dialog prompting users to “Allow” or “Ask app not to track”. .” Notably, Apple introduced its own ad targeting system soon after the change.
Apple’s willingness to unilaterally impose such a sweeping change has sent shockwaves through the tech industry, much of which relies on targeted advertising. Implementing the changes had a huge impact on the revenue of Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, which is owned by Google’s parent company.
Google’s main source of revenue is its hugely profitable digital advertising business, which earned the company $61 billion in the last quarter of 2021. The company is currently facing an antitrust lawsuit alleging unfair practices in the way it handles digital ad auctions. With ad monopoly charges already on the table, Google is unlikely to remove its competitors’ ability to serve effective ads on Android, and it would almost certainly be hit with more antitrust lawsuits if it did. And the fact that it owns YouTube, which operates on an ad-supported model and benefits from some of Google’s infrastructure, only adds another potential pitfall if the parent company takes actions that seem to disadvantage competition.
So far, Google has touted the changes as a way to retain the good parts of digital advertising while cutting out some of the bad. In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Chavez argued that blocking ads too broadly actually leads to worse privacy results as advertisers resort to more insidious forms of tracking such as browser fingerprinting.
“We’ve seen approaches that restrict existing tools without providing an effective, privacy-preserving path have real downsides,” Chavez said on the call. “We believe blocking ads without thoughtful planning can lead to worse outcomes for everyone.”
By proactively defining safe and permitted forms of advertising, Chavez said, Google is ensuring strong revenue streams for developers and robust privacy for Android users, a deal touted as the best of both worlds.
But for a privacy-conscious Android user, this might best be billed as the “lesser of two evils.” During the product call, Google talked a lot about working with industry on the privacy sandbox solution and less about considering user preferences; When pushed on this point, Chavez insisted that Google believed the sandbox solution was “what users wanted” but didn’t extend much beyond that.
So far, the response from popular Android app makers has been positive, especially when compared to Apple’s push back on iOS changes. A Google press release cites endorsements from Snap, Activision Blizzard, Duolingo and others, many of which praise the company for involving third-party developers early in the process.
Contacted for comment, led by Facebook The edge to a statement posted on Twitter by Graham Mudd, the company’s vice president of product marketing.
“Encouraging to see this long-term, collaborative approach to Google’s privacy-protecting personalized advertising,” Mudd said. “We look forward to continuing to work with them and the industry on privacy technologies through industry groups.”