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Google Will Make It Harder For Android Apps To Track You, But Unlike Apple, It Still Holds Back

By: Vishal Mathur

Last Updated: June 04, 2021, 09:04 IST

Image for representation

Image for representation

Google says the stronger privacy measures will land on Android 12 phones first, with billions of phones on Android 11 or older, getting these sometime in 2022.

This is something we expected, and this is something that surely the likes of Facebook feared once Apple set the ball rolling. Google is on its way to also strengthening the privacy measures for Android phones which will make it much harder for apps to track users between apps and websites and then use that data to serve up adverts. Later this year, when Google’s own iteration of the app tracking prevention comes into force, advertisers and apps that request access to advertising IDs on Android phones if a user has chosen to opt out of tracking, will instead get a string of zeros. Google is now letting developer know about the intended changes. There was expectation from Google to implement stronger data tracking prevention for Android, after Apple rolled out the App Tracking Transparency for iPhones, earlier this year.

Apart from the communication shared with Play Store developers, Google has also updated the support page for Advertising IDs to reflect the new line of thinking. “As part of Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising ID will be removed when a user opts out of personalization using advertising ID in Android Settings. Any attempts to access the identifier will receive a string of zeros instead of the identifier,” they say. It is expected that these changes to improve Android privacy will reach out to all Android phone users globally, and not just be limited to the newer Android 11 and the upcoming Android 12 versions. All Google says at this time, is that the new Google Play services update will see a phased rollout that will impact apps running on Android 12 devices starting late 2021, before the policy expands to affect apps running on devices that support Google Play in early 2022. No specific timelines are available at this time.

Till now, users have been able to also opt out of personalized advertising on Android (Settings > Google > Ads > Opt out of Ads Personalization) which restricted apps from fetching your advertising ID to serve personalized ads. However, this did not restrict ads, which would have still continued, without personalization. Secondly, apps could still access hardware and device IDs to serve ads. At the same time, these IDs are also used by apps and developers for data such as usage analytics and fraud prevention, particularly for payment apps, which link device IDs with payment methods—one such example is the UPI payment method in India, which has a multi-layer verification method that checks for your SIM card and device ID before allowing you to make a payment, to prevent frauds. It is expected that Google will offer more clarity on this in the coming weeks. “In July, we will provide an5 alternate solution to support essential use cases such as analytics and fraud prevention,” they say.

After Apple rolled out the App Tracking Transparency feature earlier this year as part of the iOS 14.5 update, use behaviour became clear that they do not like getting tracked by apps to get served with advertisements. In May, a report by Flurry Analytics states that up to 96 of all iPhone users had disabled app tracking on iPhones in USA and 88% of users had already disabled app tracking on their iPhones, by the time the report was released. The data has been collated from a sample size of about 2.5 million users in USA, and 5.3 million users around the world. It is therefore not surprising that Google has stepped up to make sure it is being seen doing the same for Android phone users.

Yet, differences in approach remain. When Apple talked privacy for users, it was a communication made to consumers to let them know what was incoming. So far, Google has simply made these changes to the support pages and initiated communication with developers. Most users, till they read this article, wouldn’t know what was brewing. Secondly, Google says that these stronger privacy measures will come into play for Android 12 phones first, and the billions of Android users on Android 11 or older versions, will get these changes sometime in 2022. Considering the fragmentation that there is in the Android ecosystem driven by very delayed Android updates across most phone makers, it may still be a while before users can actually enable the tracking prevention measures on Android. Apple rolled out the App Tracking Transparency for all iPhones with iOS 14.5, in one fine swoop.

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