Explained: What Google’s new ‘ad-tracking’ policies means for users, developers

Written by Shruti Dhapola
, Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |

Updated: June 4, 2021 7:07:37 pm
Google will tighten its policies on tracking users, who opt-out of interest-based advertising tracking or ads personalisation on Android. While users can already opt-out of personalised ads on Android, developers can still access the advertising ID on Android, which can be used to profile user interests. All of this will change in the second half of this year.

The move comes after Apple took a similar step in April this year with its iOS 14.6 update, where apps have to ask users for permission in order to track their behaviour on other websites. On the latest version of iOS, tracking user behaviour is automatically turned off for most apps, until a user opts-in. Here’s how Google’s announcement is different and when it will come into effect.

What are the changes that Google is introducing?

First, the advertising ID on Android is a unique and user-resettable ID for advertising purposes and part of all phones running Google Play services, which is on most Android phones. Only Android devices in China do not have Play Services.

Google says this is a “simple, standard system” for developers “to continue to monetise their apps.” But the support page from Google now adds that once a user opts-out of personalised ads, the advertising identifier will not be available to the app developer at all.

The developer’s app will “receive a string of zeros in place of the identifier,” if a user has opted out of ads personalisation. The settings for opting out differ on each phone.

At the moment, this advertising ID is what app developers can use to track and target user behaviour on Android. For example, if you open an app and search for a product, and then see advertisements for the same product on another app, it is because of this ad-tracking and personalisation feature.

When will Google make these changes for advertising tracking?

According to Google’s support page, the change will come into place starting late 2021. The support page explains that this will roll out in phases and impact apps running on Android 12 devices starting late 2021.

The change will impact all apps running on devices that support Play services by early 2022, according to the page. This means by early 2022 all Android phones will likely support the change.

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The support page also notes that in July, Google “will provide an alternate solution to support essential use cases such as analytics and fraud prevention.” It is not clear what this alternate solution will be.

Will there be some other identifiers that developers will be able to use?

Google will still support “persistent identifiers” for developers since there are various use cases which aren’t related to advertising. This includes identifiers such as the Android ID. But Google says it will be evaluating “additional opportunities to provide users with even more informed control over what persistent identifiers are provided to third parties.”

Developers will be able to use these persistent advertisers for non-advertising purposes and as long as they have a privacy policy and handle data in accordance with the Developer Distribution Agreement. Further, app developers also need to comply with all applicable privacy laws to access data from these identifiers.

How is it different from what Apple is doing?

Google is letting users opt-out of ad-tracking behaviour by apps. Apple wants users to opt-in for this kind of tracking, so it is blocking them from the start itself. Basically be it Facebook or Instagram or your favourite shopping app, they need to ask for your specific permission in order to track your behaviour on other websites and apps.

With Android, Google will still let apps track you, until you decide to opt-out. It is not clear if Google will have a prompt reminding users that this is an option they can use on their Android device. On iOS, most apps have had to push out a notification asking users to let them track their behaviour and requesting them to keep this turned on.

Previously, Google also announced that it plans to add privacy information to its Play Store listings for each app, which is another feature that Apple has rolled out. On the App Store, the ‘privacy nutrition’ labels’ show what kind of data each app collects on iOS.

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How to opt-out of ads personalisation on Android?

– Open your device’s Settings app.

– Find Google Services in the list. This can differ depending on device.

– Under “Services,” select Ads.

– Turn on “Opt out of Ads Personalization” by moving the switch to the right.

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