Google on Wednesday announced a multi-year initiative to build the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ on Android in a bid to enhance privacy for users. Building on its existing efforts on the web, the tech giant is planning to build solutions that will limit third-party tracking and reliance on cross-app identifiers.

“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. Specifically, these solutions will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID,” Anthony Chavez, VP, Product Management, Android Security and Privacy said in a blog post. 

“The goal is to enable effective publisher and advertiser experiences on Android that don’t rely on device-level identifiers and limit the tracking of individuals across apps, explained Jessica Martin, Head of Privacy, Google APAC during a press briefing.

Google last year had announced new privacy controls in terms of advertising, enabling users to reset their advertising ID or opt-out of personalised ads within Google Play apps. Advertising ID is a unique identifier for advertising.

Google’s privacy controls enabled zeroing out the Android advertising identifier if users turn Ads Personalisation off. The changes followed Apple’s App Tracking Transparency update announced with iOS 14.5 to limit ad tracking.

The changes required users to provide explicit permission to let apps track them for advertising purposes. Now, Google is planning to develop new solutions for more “private” ad solutions, limiting the use of such identifiers. 

“We realise that other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers. We believe that —without first providing a privacy-preserving alternative path — such approaches can be ineffective and lead to worse outcomes for user privacy and developer businesses,” said Chavez. 

“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,” Chavez added.

“The Privacy Sandbox on Android initiative protects user privacy while still facilitating advertising functionality that supports ads. So when storing and processing key information on the user device, privacy-preserving API limits the need for contact providers to determine individual user details while maintaining the use case and positive user experience of personalised advertising,” explained Martin. 

“The challenge is how to strengthen privacy protections for people while continuing to enable the valid functionality of an ad supported free app ecosystem,” said Martin.

The tech major will also be exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs (software development kits). It is not planning to make any changes to the ad ID primary use cases and will continue to support existing ads platform features for at least two years. 

“We intend to provide substantial notice ahead of any future changes,” said Chavez. The changes will also impact Google ads as these proposed technologies will work in the same way for everyone, including Google, Martin added.

Timeline

According to Martin, it is expected that the development testing and adoption of these technologies would span at least two years. Starting today, developers can review Google’s initial design proposals and share feedback on the Android developer site. It is planning to release developer previews over the course of the year, with a beta release by the end of 2022.

“We know this initiative needs input from across the industry in order to succeed. We’ve already heard from many partners about their interest in working together to improve ads privacy on Android, and invite more organisations to participate,” Chavez added. Some of its partners in India who have welcomed the initiative include HealthifyMe, VerSe Innovation, parent company of Dailyhunt and Hungama. 

“We are excited to hear about the new privacy initiatives from Android. Google’s initiative is a great opportunity for app developers such as HealthifyMe to provide input in shaping the future of privacy on mobile. Their goals are in line with our product vision, delivering a great user experience while continuing to grow the ecosystem.” said Sachin Shenoy, CTO and Co-Founder, HealthifyMe.

“India’s journey to becoming the largest digitally connected nation brings with it not just tremendous potential but also great responsibility. Creating a safer internet requires the commitment of the entire industry and this initiative by Google is an important step in that direction,” Umang Bedi, Co-Founder, VerSe Innovation said. 

Siddhartha Roy, COO, Hungama Digital Media, Hungama, said, “We at Hungama give user privacy utmost importance and are glad to learn about Privacy Sandbox on Android. We’re looking forward to the solution that will improve user privacy and, at the same time, take care of the developer community’s interests. Wishing Google the best on this initiative.” -

Regulatory concerns 

Google had announced its Privacy Sandbox initiative for web in 2019 as it planned to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome by 2023.

The proposal had drawn flak from regulators and developers. Britain’s competition regulator Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last week accepted a revised offer from Google regarding its Privacy Sandbox for web commitments The watchdog had previously expressed concerns that it will impede competition in digital advertising.

Google earlier this year had announced Topics, a new proposal for interest-based advertising, replacing its earlier proposed Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) system for web.

“We’re also committed to working closely with regulators. 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,” said Chavez.

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