Google Will Add Privacy Sandbox to Android, But the Adtech Industry Questions Its Motives
Google this week announced an expansion of its Privacy Sandbox to Android and proposed new technologies to eventually replace the mobile ad ID.
The multi-year initiative seeks to limit sharing of user data with third parties, create solutions that can operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID, and explore technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs, according to Anthony Chavez, vice president of product management for Android Security & Privacy at Google.
"To ensure a healthy app ecosystem benefiting users, developers, and businesses, the industry must continue to evolve how digital advertising works to improve user privacy," Chavez wrote in a blog post.
"Our goal with the Privacy Sandbox on Android is to develop effective and privacy-enhancing advertising solutions, where users know their information is protected and developers and businesses have the tools to succeed on mobile," he added.
Google will support existing ads platform features for at least two years and hopes to have a beta release of Privacy Sandbox on Android by the end of the year.
"The Privacy Sandbox on Android is an important part of our mission to raise the bar for user privacy, while giving developers and businesses the tools they need to succeed on mobile," Chavez wrote.
But while Google tried to position the move as ground-breaking, advertising industry executives see it as Google's way of trying to catch up to Apple.
"Google has been a giant half step behind Apple on privacy lockdowns every step of the way, whether it be the removal of third-party cookies or the lockdown of the mobile phone's advertising ID," says Mike Woosley, chief operating officer at adtech data solutions provider Lotame. "It's quite interesting that Google would be taking credit… The privacy positioning, while factitious, is a native part of Apple's ethos, not Google's."
"We knew this was coming, as Google has been following in Apple's footsteps with all things privacy. Given Apple's change to IDFA in 2021, this was inevitable," adds Shiv Gupta, managing partner of U of Digital.
In 2020, Google introduced the Privacy Sandbox for Chrome, which aimed to phase out third-party cookies on the web and restrict how much consumer information can be shared with advertisers. Other ongoing efforts include the Topics and FLoC APIs, which limit ad targeting those who opted-in to a specific topic or category.
But Woosley is very critical of Google's overall positioning on the privacy issue.
"The need to use identity in marketing, which is critical for nearly all modern marketing, is not an issue for the dominant players. These changes primarily effect the rest of the digital media industry," he says.
"Every lock-down framed in privacy functions to further entrench the dominance of [Google and Apple]," Woosley continues. "The cover of consumer privacy when it comes to ID technology should always be viewed with cynicism and suspicion. Almost all laws and regulations around privacy allow the media and marketing industry to apply identity tools when consumers receive transparency and give consent. The removal of these tools make functional execution impossible, except via use and grace of those same dominant platforms."
Gupta shares some of that skepticism.
"Once again, Google is moving toward being more pro-privacy than pro-advertising. Similar to Apple, long term, this benefits Google, as they get to cripple their ad tech competitors, prop up their owned and operated ad products, and come out looking like a white knight of privacy."
"These initiatives limit mobile advertisers ability to track user data with third parties, majorly impacting the way many businesses track and target consumers. In response, brands must think about the long-term and drive customer loyalty that creates authentic, trusted relationships with their customers, rather than focus only on the short term," says Alex Campbell, co-founder and chief information officer of Vibes.
"Customers will only give their personal data to brands if they communicate with them in a respectful way. Marketers must respect that when a consumer provides personal information they expect to not only receive a more valuable customer experience, but also their information won’t be shared with other parties," Campbells says further. "Channels with higher compliance, like mobile messaging, are permission-oriented and will grow in importance as brands engage with consumers and use data to create authentic trusted relationships with customers and provide a better brand experience overall."
The mobile adtech industry has been working hard on its own to figure out what to do without identifiers, Gupta adds, noting that the industry will not be as shaken up by Google's moves as one would think.
"They'll be fine, because they have two years to figure it all out," he concludes.