At issue is the ability for advertising companies to follow users from one app to another on their smartphones. After Apple removed that capability from its iPhone, Google wants to do the same with Android.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

February 18, 2022

4 Min Read
Google to join Apple in killing cross-app ad tracking

Google announced it plans to slowly phase out support for cross-app tracking services for advertisers, a move that could have profound implications for digital advertising businesses ranging from Meta to Amazon to Google itself.

Indeed, Google originally developed the Android smartphone operating system in part to ensure it retained a grip on the smartphone industry as its core Internet search advertising business shifted from desktop to mobile usage.

"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," wrote Google's Anthony Chavez, VP of product management for Android security and privacy, on the company's website. "We look forward to working with the industry on this journey."

Google's announcement comes roughly a year after Apple implemented similar changes on its iOS smartphone operating system. Meta, formerly Facebook, said that action will cost it $10 billion in advertising revenues this year. Partly as a result, Meta's stock has fallen by roughly 45% since September, and the company is no longer ranked among the ten most valuable companies in the world.

Google said it expects to continue to support cross-app ad tracking for at least the next two years on Android, and will work with regulators and advertisers to smooth the transition.

"We realize that other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers," Google's Chavez wrote in a tacit nod to Apple. "We believe that – without first providing a privacy-preserving alternative path – such approaches can be ineffective and lead to worse outcomes for user privacy and developer businesses."

At issue is the ability for advertising companies to follow users from one app to another on their smartphones. Doing so allows advertisers to create a profile of those users so they can send them targeted advertisements rather than just general ones – new parents for example would see ads for diapers instead of ones for romantic getaways.

But Apple, in its quest to align its brand around user privacy, abruptly eliminated support for this kind of ad profiling on its iPhone platform last year. Thus, companies like Meta that derive the bulk of their revenues from selling targeted ads can no longer do so to iPhone users. For Google though, it's worth noting that the company has already proposed changes to its popular Chrome web browser that would similarly affect targeted ads.

Figure 2: Apple's iOS now allows users to opt out of ad-tracking services. (Source: Light Reading) Apple's iOS now allows users to opt out of ad-tracking services.
(Source: Light Reading)

Google's decision to join Apple comes amid increased government scrutiny into the advertising practices of massive Internet companies like Twitter and Meta. As Axios noted, a new bill introduced last month would essentially ban most such targeted advertising.

The push against cross-app advertising services comes at an interesting time for network operators like AT&T and Verizon. Both companies have recently pulled back from the digital advertising business that Meta and others have pioneered. AT&T sold its Xandr advertising business to Microsoft while Verizon offloaded its Yahoo and AOL media division to Apollo Global Management.

Further, there's a quiet but ongoing push among some in the telecom industry to require "big tech" companies to fund the construction of telecom services in rural areas. Such funding today is in part derived from telecom companies themselves (and ultimately their customers) but some argue that huge technology companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Apple ought to be required to put funds toward the digital divide as well.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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