With Apple’s developer conference just around the corner, Google is reportedly planning to follow in its rivals footsteps by letting Android users opt out of being tracked by the apps they download from the Google Play store.
A Google support page detailing how users can opt out of third-party tracking has generated a bit of buzz. Originally surfaced by the Financial Times, Google will introduce a switch for users later this year that turns off sharing the Advertising ID, which is the device identifier that lets marketers see your activity from app to app. (It’s also one of the identifiers that manufacturers had access to during the covid-19 contact tracing privacy snafu.) Android users can already limit system-wide ad-tracking or manually reset their Advertising ID to help throw off being tracked, but this new setting will let users opt out of any alternative device identifiers that developers also use to track your activity across apps.
Google announced a Play Store policy change in an email to developers. Those who try to access advertising IDs from users who have opted out will only see a “string of zeros” rather than the explicit numerical identifier.
From the Google support page:
As part of Google Play services update in late 2021, the advertising ID will be removed when a user opts out of personalization 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.
Unlike on iOS, it’s unclear if the tracking feature will be on by default or if Google will make this a known feature or something that’s buried deep in the settings panel. But we’ll likely have answers by the time Android 12 rolls out publicly. Google is phasing the rollout to apps running on Android 12 devices starting in late 2021, with expansion for more devices coming in early 2022.
Google has been working overtime to change the narrative on how it approaches privacy. The company has added a bunch of granular privacy controls over the years, dating back to permission-selection features introduced back in Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but with Apple using privacy as a key selling point for its devices, there’s a renewed push for Google to answer. The company recently announced a new safety section in the Google Play Store a few weeks back.
Privacy has clearly become a company-wide initiative, considering Google’s move to create a new tracking alternative—one that binds your activity directly to its servers.
And the more features that Google can push out to make its platforms and the services integrated into it seem safer, the more it maintains consumer trust to hold on to that top spot on the market share leaderboard.
Being an Android user has always been about choice. It’s nice that Google is adding an option to make Android users feel better about being on the platform after the security features Apple introduced to iOS. This is certainly the first feature I’m choosing to take advantage of once I update to Android 12.