Google is weighing an anti-tracking feature for Android, following Apple’s lead
February 4, 2021
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Google is considering developing an Android alternative to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency, a new planned opt-in requirement the iPhone maker will impose on developers that demands they ask for permission to track iOS users across apps and websites. The news, first reported on Thursday by Bloomberg, underscores the increasing pressure on large tech companies, many spurred on by Apple, to take more proactive measures to better protect user privacy.

Google won’t say whether it is indeed working on an anti-tracking privacy measure for Android. But in a statement, a Google spokesperson tells The Verge, “We’re always looking for ways to work with developers to raise the bar on privacy while enabling a healthy, ad-supported app ecosystem.”

First announced at Apple’s developer conference last summer, App Tracking Transparency effectively slides a system-level opt in between an app’s tracking capabilities and a user’s preferences. If the user says they would rather not be tracked, there’s nothing the developer can do to get around that because Apple will disable a developer’s ability to gather the so-called Identifier for Advertisers code, or IDFA. That code both lets advertisers track users from one app or website to another for ad targeting while also helping advertisers measure the effectiveness of ads, such as whether a user ends up purchasing a product they saw on one app by using the mobile website of the merchant.

Apple intends to police developers using audits and other methods to enforce its policies, which include potentially suspending or banning apps from the App Store if a developer does not comply. Both Facebook and Google have publicly expressed concern for how Apple’s opt-in requirement could negatively affect their mobile advertising networks. But Facebook has gone a step further and begun waging a public relations war against Apple over the change by complaining it will harm small businesses and accusing Apple of being self-serving.

Google’s take on App Tracking Transparency would likely not be as severe, Bloomberg reports. Instead of forcing opt-in requirements on app developers, the Android alternative may resemble some of the upcoming privacy controls planned for Google’s Chrome browser, in which the company seeks to end some of the more insidious tracking technologies on the web today by developing less invasive alternatives and giving users more opt-out mechanisms.

Google’s work to develop new privacy practices and standards for the web is known as the Privacy Sandbox. As part of that ongoing project, Google has taken steps to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome and is working on tools that allow advertisers to target groups of users instead of directly targeting individuals. All of this could inform how Google develops an anti-tracking measure for Android, Bloomberg reports.

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