Google will review how ad tracking works on Android phones

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SAN FRANCISCO – Google has announced that it will begin the process of removing long-standing ad trackers from its Android operating system, disrupting the way advertising and data collection work on phones and tablets used by more than 2.5 billion people worldwide.

Currently, Google assigns special identifiers to each Android device, allowing advertisers to build profiles of what people are doing on their phones and show them highly targeted ads. Google will begin testing alternatives to these identifiers this year and eventually phase them out completely, the company said in a blog post Wednesday.

Google said the changes will improve the privacy of Android users, limiting the huge amounts of data app developers collect from people who use the platform. But the move could also give Google even more power over digital advertising and is likely to deepen concerns that regulators have already raised about the company’s competitive practices. Google is the world’s most dominant digital advertising company and owns many of the tools advertisers use to reach people online, as well as billions of dollars in ad space on search results and on YouTube videos. It earned $ 61 billion in advertising revenue in the fourth quarter of 2021 alone.

“Google is between a rock and a hard place,” said Ari Paparo, a longtime ad tech executive who ran the adware company Beeswax before the sale to Comcast in 2020. Google needs to balance the demands of consumers, advertisers, privacy advocates and regulators, everything together at the same time, he said.

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The announcement comes more than a year after Apple began blocking trackers on its own operating system running on its iPhones, giving customers more tools to limit the data they share with developers. The movement that sent shockwaves through the advertising world and led to Facebook – which makes a lot of its money on targeted mobile ads with data it collects from users – to say the changes would cost him $ 10 billion in revenue this year. Google, which is less dependent on mobile data, was not so affected by the changes and may even have benefited from advertisers moving their money from Facebook to search ads and YouTube.

Google compared its plan to Apple’s, saying it would make the changes over the next two years, working closely with app developers and the advertising industry to develop new ways to target users, ads and measure their effectiveness before making drastic changes.

“We realize that other platforms have taken a different approach to ad protection, and they have directly limited existing technologies used by developers and advertisers,” said Anthony Chavez, vice president of product management. for Android security and privacy. “We believe that without first providing an alternative path to privacy, such approaches can be ineffective and lead to poorer outcomes for users’ privacy and development companies.”

Google went through a similar process with its Chrome web browser as it works to get rid of third-party cookies, small pieces of code used to track people across the web and send them targeted ads. This process has already been controversial, with Google extending its timeline following intense opposition from the advertising world. Last month, it dropped its original proposal to replace tracking cookies with a system that sorts Chrome users into affinity groups based on their data and allows advertisers to target those groups. Google now offers to assign each user multiple “topics” based on their browser history, such as home decor or basketball, and allow advertisers to display ads based on those descriptions.

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But there are still big questions about exactly how the changes will be implemented on both web browsers and mobile phones. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Web publishers, app developers, and advertisers are concerned that a single company that already dominates the Internet is making changes to the way the Internet works for more than two decades, forcing everyone to adapt.

“Google’s two-year plan is too long. People deserve better privacy now,” said Marshall Erwin, Chief Security Officer at Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, which began restricting ad tracking several years ago.

Regulators, who have stepped up their study of Big Tech in recent years, have previously expressed concern about Google’s changes in ad tracking. The UK Competition Authority recently reached an agreement with Google, in which the company agreed to be more transparent about the changes it made and to give other companies more time to adapt to them. .

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