Google Privacy Sandbox Coming to Android
Although Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative wasn't met with the universal praise that was expected (one Reddit user called it a "consumer-friendly speak for unknowingly opting in to FLoC"), the company seems to like it well enough to bring Privacy Sandbox to Android apps and devices.
Let's find out what this means for the digital advertising industry and user data privacy as they search the Internet.
(Don't confuse this with Google sand box, which is a supposed filter that the company uses to prevent new websites from ranking high in search results).
Google Privacy Sandbox - What it Means for Digital Advertising Companies?
In a blog post, the company wrote:
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. We're also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs.
Google also said that it will not give preferential treatment to its own products and sites over those of other partners and developers.
In addition, Android developers can receive updates about the Privacy Sandbox initiative and design proposals by signing up to the Android developer site.
Is Google Tracking Over?
Will this stop Google tracking?
Ad IDs are like cookies on Android in that ad companies need access to them to track user behavior across apps and serve users personalized ads based on this data.
Users can turn this feature off on their Android from the Settings app.
Go to: Settings > Google > Ads > toggle Opt out of Ads Personalisation on.
As of late 2021, this replaces the actual identifier with a string of zeros. This update will expand to all Google Play apps running on Android devices on 1st April 2022.
So does Privacy Sandbox mean less tracking on the Internet?
Google announced a plan to "build a more private web" in a blog post in which they announced Privacy Sandbox for the first time.
Privacy is paramount to us, in everything we do. So today, we are announcing a new initiative to develop a set of open standards to fundamentally enhance privacy on the web. We're calling this a Privacy Sandbox.
That's funny coming from a company that knows everything from who you are to your current location. Read here to learn how much Google knows about you.
For instance, Google claims that restricting existing technologies like blocking third-party cookies hurts data privacy.
In particular, the company said that:
- Large-scale restricting of existing technologies (like blocking cookies) on websites leads to non-transparent tracking techniques, including browser fingerprinting
- Blocking cookies also hurts the Internet as a whole because advertisers can't get the data they need to serve users relevant ads and run effective ad campaigns, which hurts their revenue
The Biggest Problems with the Privacy Sandbox Initiative
There are some problems the initiative is creating here:
- Tracking Ad Impressions
First is that by getting rid of third-party cookies, it gets difficult for websites and online businesses to track ad impressions and attribute them to page views and purchases.
Apple tried to solve this with their Privacy Preserving Ad Click Attribution For the Web solution, which lets advertisers mark up ads with metadata like reporting and destination URLs and "impression data" (a unique ID), so Google did something similar.
The impression data field is the most important to talk about here.
Apple proposed that advertisers can store up to 6 bits of data in the field. That's, enough to separate two products or campaigns on different media.
Google allows 64 bits of data in its unique ID field.
Essentially, this means marketers can attach a unique ID to every ad impression they serve and connect conversions to individual users.
Then, there is the FLoC or Federated Learning of Cohorts.
Basically, FLoC allows users to share bits of data and build their local machine learning models.
Unfortunately, FLoC uses the user's browsing history to group users into groups or cohorts ("flocks"). Each user gets a "flock name", which they share with others on the Internet.
Instead of using third-party trackers, Google would simply use your browser to follow you around the Internet as you search and get easy access to your data and location.
Don't be fooled by this "privacy is paramount to us, in everything we do" talk by Google.
Google makes a lot of money from digital advertising and giving access to your data to its partners. According to Statista, they almost 210 billion USD from ad revenue in 2021 alone. A year before that nearly 150 billion USD.
This is not the kind of money they will want to give up on that easily.