Google is overhauling ad tracking on Android handsets, that are used by billions of people around the world.

Google announced on Wednesday that it is introducing the Privacy Sandbox on Android, a series of privacy measures that will remove the ability to track users across apps on Android smartphones.

The move is potentially bad news for advertisers and those firms that rely on advertising revenue, such as Facebook’s parent Meta, which recently said that Apple’s ad tracking changes will result in a $10 billion revenue hit this year.

Privacy Sandbox

Google of course as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative, is already working to replace third-party cookies, which can be used to track user’s surfing and behaviour across multiple websites, with a privacy-focused solution on its Chrome browser.

Google’s efforts here are overseen by the United Kingdom’s competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

That concerns privacy via its web browser, but now Google is expanding the Privacy Sandbox to the Android platform itself and all the apps that run on it.

“Currently over 90 percent of the apps on Google Play are free, providing access to valuable content and services to billions of users,” noted Anthony Chavez VP, Product Management, Android Security & Privacy.

“Digital advertising plays a key role in making this possible,” wrote Chavez. “But in order to ensure a healthy app ecosystem – benefiting users, developers and businesses – the industry must continue to evolve how digital advertising works to improve user privacy. That’s why we originally developed advertising ID to give users more control. Last year we introduced improvements to these controls, but we believe it’s important to go further.”

“Today, we’re announcing a multi-year initiative to build the Privacy Sandbox on Android, with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions,” wrote Chavez. “Specifically, these solutions will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID.”

“We’re also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs,” wrote Chavez.

Not Apple’s approach

Chavez took a little dig at Apple’s ‘blunt’ approach when he noted that “other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers.”

Chavez believes that approach can be ineffective and lead to worse outcomes for user privacy and developer businesses.

“Our goal with the Privacy Sandbox on Android is to develop effective and privacy enhancing advertising solutions, where users know their information is protected, and developers and businesses have the tools to succeed on mobile,” wrote Chavez.

“While we design, build and test these new solutions, we plan to support existing ads platform features for at least two years, and we intend to provide substantial notice ahead of any future changes,” wrote Chavez.

He said Google would work with the industry on the matter.

“Starting today, developers can review our initial design proposals and share feedback on the Android developer site,” wrote Chavez. “We know this initiative needs input from across the industry in order to succeed.”

“We’re also committed to working closely with regulators,” wrote Chavez. “We’ve offered public commitments for our Privacy Sandbox efforts on the web, including ensuring that we don’t give preferential treatment to Google’s ads products or sites. We’ll apply these principles to our Android work as well, and continue working with the UK Competition and Markets Authority, and others.”

“The Privacy Sandbox on Android is an important part of our mission to raise the bar for user privacy, while giving developers and businesses the tools they need to succeed on mobile,” Chavez concluded. “We look forward to working with the industry on this journey.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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