Google is preparing a “privacy sandbox” initiative for Android as the company builds a privacy-focused reputation and improves options for consumers. The privacy sandbox already exists as a feature in Chrome that restricts tracking on websites, and the same concept is finally being applied to Android phones.
As for when Google rolls this out, the company says it’s a “multi-year plan,” with delivery scheduled through the Play Store rather than alongside the already privacy-focused Android 13.
Anthony Chavez, Google’s vice president of product management, Android security and privacy, wrote in a blog post, “Today we are announcing a multi-year initiative to build the privacy sandbox on Android, with the goal of new, more personalized advertising solutions. These Specifically, solutions will restrict the sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising IDs.
Typically, when you use an app, a user is assigned an ID that tracks them across different apps. This is what allows developers (or, more precisely, the ad networks used by developers) to target ads effectively. When Google’s solution is rolled out, these identifiers will be removed and Google will replace them with something more private. Chavez notes that this removal of cross-app identifiers would also apply to Google’s apps, so the company wouldn’t privilege its own apps over others.
Contrary to Apple’s approach, which sparked amazement and hostility from partners, Google says it has worked with third-party developers to ensure the general public has a more personalized experience, but that its partners are not adversely affected. Google cited statements from prominent partners, including Duolingo, Snap and Rovio, showing their support for this initiative.
Facebook’s parent company Meta also approved the move and sent media requests to a tweet from a director. “It’s encouraging to see this longstanding, collaborative approach to Google’s privacy-preserving personalized advertising. We look forward to working with them and the industry on privacy-enhancing technology through industry groups,” said Graham Mudd, vice president of Product Marketing, Ads and Business for Meta. Meta claimed to have lost $10 billion as a result of Apple’s own privacy changes. .
Google itself also focused on Apple’s less collaborative approach, saying, “We realize that other platforms have taken a different approach to ad privacy, bluntly limiting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers. We believe that such approaches – without first providing a privacy-protecting alternative – could be ineffective and lead to poorer outcomes for user privacy and developer companies.” Showing the counterproductive efforts of this approach even outside of the mobile world, Microsoft once adopted a brute-force approach to privacy with its Do Not Track implementation, rendering the feature useless.
Being the arbiter of privacy on a platform you control in a market where you compete is a tricky situation, and Google says it is working with other interested parties with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority to avoid another antitrust case.