Google plans privacy changes, but promises not to disrupt

Google said Wednesday it was working on privacy measures to limit data sharing on smartphones running its Android software. But the company promised the changes wouldn’t be as disruptive as a similar move by Apple last year.

Apple’s changes to its iOS software on iPhone asked users for permission before allowing advertisers to track them. Apple’s permission controls — and, ultimately, users’ decision to block tracking — have had a profound impact on internet companies that have built businesses on so-called targeted advertising.

Google didn’t provide an exact timeline for its changes, but said it would support existing technologies for at least two years.

This month, Meta, the company founded as Facebook, said Apple’s privacy changes will cost it $10 billion this year in lost ad revenue. The revelation weighed on Meta’s share price and raised concerns about other companies relying on digital advertising.

Anthony Chavez, vice president of Google’s Android division, said in an interview ahead of the announcement that it was too early to assess the potential impact of Google’s changes, which seek to limit data sharing between apps. and with third parties. But he stressed that the company’s goal was to find a more private option for users while allowing developers to continue to generate ad revenue.

As the world’s two largest smartphone software vendors, Google and Apple have tremendous influence over what mobile apps can do on billions of devices. Changes to increase privacy or give users more control over their data — a growing demand from customers, regulators and politicians — come at a cost to companies that collect data to sell interest-based personalized ads and demographics of a user.

Chavez said that if Google and Apple don’t offer a privacy-conscious alternative, advertisers may turn to more surreptitious options that could lead to fewer protections for users. He also argued that Apple’s ‘brutal approach’ was proving ‘ineffective’, citing a study that found changes to iOS had no significant impact on stopping third-party tracking. .

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment.

Google and Apple’s changes are significant because digital advertising based on the accumulation of user data has underpinned the internet for 20 years. But this business model faces more challenges, as users have become more wary of large-scale data collection amid general mistrust of tech giants.

The difference in approach between Apple and Google also shows how each company makes most of its money. Apple derives most of its revenue from selling devices, while Google primarily derives its money from selling digital advertising and may be more open to accommodating advertisers’ needs.

Wayne Coburn, chief product officer at Iterable, a marketing software company, said it’s no surprise that Google is taking these steps as Apple aggressively pitches privacy as a selling point over products powered by Microsoft. Android. Still, he said Google’s approach looked like a “weak move” in providing a two-year timeline. He expects the company to come under pressure to “do more, faster”.

“It’s a reaction to what Apple did,” Mr. Coburn said. “Google wouldn’t do this on its own.”

Google said it plans to bring its privacy initiative, Privacy Sandbox, which was primarily limited to reducing tracking on the company’s Chrome browser, to Android — the world’s most widely used software for mobile devices. Google has been forced to revamp its approach to eliminating so-called cookies, a tracking tool, on Chrome while facing resistance from privacy groups and advertisers.

Google said it’s offering new privacy-conscious approaches in Android to allow advertisers to assess ad campaign performance and display personalized ads based on past behavior or recent interests, as well as new tools to limit covert tracking through apps. Google didn’t provide many details on how these new alternatives work.

As part of the changes, Google said it plans to remove Advertising ID, a tracking feature from Android that helps advertisers know whether users have clicked on an ad or purchased a product, as well as keep an eye on their interests and activities. Google said it already allows users to opt out of personalized ads by removing the tracking ID.

The company said it plans to eliminate IDs used in advertising on Android for everyone, including Google. Chavez said Google’s own apps wouldn’t have special or privileged access to Android data or functionality, without specifying how that would work. This echoes a promise Google made to UK regulators not to give preferential treatment to its own products.

The company hasn’t offered a definitive timeline for phasing out the advertising ID, but it has pledged to keep the existing system in place for two years. Google said it would offer preview versions of its new proposals to advertisers, before releasing a more comprehensive test version this year.

Chavez said Google’s decision was not driven by Apple’s actions, adding that the company was always looking to “raise the bar” when it comes to privacy.

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