Google follows Apple with further Android tracking crackdown

Ios 14.5 App Tracking Transparency Hero
Ios 14.5 App Tracking Transparency Hero (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

What you need to know

  • Google is clamping down on tracking on Android.
  • It is making it harder for Android apps to track users who have opted out of personalized ads and sharing their Advertising ID.
  • It comes as developers have been able to circumvent current measures on the platform.

Google has confirmed that later this year it will increase efforts to protect users from tracking on Android, in a move experts say is an attempt to compete with Apple's App Tracking Transparency changes in iOS 14.

As reported by the Financial Times:

Google is strengthening privacy protections for Android users who want to make it harder for advertisers to track them when they move between apps, as the company tries to counter Apple's image as a better steward of personal data.In changes that will come as a fresh blow to the near $400bn-a-year digital advertising industry, Google will introduce extra safeguards for Android users that opt-out of sharing their "Advertising ID" — a device identifier that allows marketers to track them as they switch from app to app.

As the report notes Android users can already limit ad tracking and reset their IDs, but developers "have been able to circumvent those settings" using alternative device identifiers, the focus of these new measures.

Google confirmed the news in a support document on Advertising ID which now states "Starting in late 2021, when a user opts out of interest-based advertising or ads personalization, the advertising identifier will not be available. You will receive a string of zeros in place of the identifier."

The page explains:

As part of the Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising ID will be removed when a user opts out of personalisation using advertising ID in Android settings. Any attempts to access the identifier will receive a string of zeros instead of the identifier. To help developers and ad/analytics service providers with compliance efforts, and respect user choice, they will be able to receive notifications for opt-out preferences. Additionally, apps targeting Android 12 will need to declare a Google Play services normal permission in the manifest file.

Apple's own iOS 14 changes have been met with strong pushback from the likes of Facebook regarding the impact it could have on advertising sales and revenue. Recent news indicates Apple's measures have seen a reduction in spending and falling ad prices. Ironically, reports have also indicated that some advertisers are spending more on Android as a result of the measures. As FT notes, experts believe the measures are designed to compete with Apple's ATT changes:

Experts interpreted the new policy, which will be introduced later this year, as an attempt to compete with Apple. The iPhone maker last month bolstered its privacy credentials by turning off tracking by default, and giving users the ability to opt-in if they want."For years, Google has told the public and regulators that their Android Advertising ID was safe-enough," said Zach Edwards, who runs Victory Medium, a technical consulting firm. "But then, literally weeks after Apple shifted privacy standards to better protect device IDs, Google has decided to shift their own rhetoric and risk models."

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9