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Is Google’s opt-out option for Android users really a better option for users?

In a move to further tighten its privacy policy, Google is now restricting apps from tracking users for personalised ads. Android apps will now find it tough to track users as Google will remove advertising IDs for users who have opted out of receiving personalised ads. Once users have opted out of personalised ads, the developers will lose access to advertising IDs and will see a string of zeros instead.

The development will start rolling out to Android users in late 2021. In an email to Play Store developers, Google notified about this development. According to Google’s support page regarding the Advertising IDs, the change will begin in late 2021 on devices running Android 12 and in early 2022 for all devices that support Google Play Services.

Google had issued a notice on May 6, 2021 about the future of Android and user data transparency. While it was not a direct response to Apple’s update with iOS 14.5, Google’s “pre-announcement” of an upcoming safety section in Google Play should keep the two operating systems in step on several separate privacy-centric fronts. The new section in Google Play will help people understand the data an app collects or shares.

Also read:
Google to allow Android users to opt out of interest based ads

Commenting on the new policy, Prasad Shejale, Founder and CEO, Logicserve Digital, said, “Currently, Android phones have the option to ‘Opt out of Ads Personalisation’, but an app could request an Advertising ID, bypassing the user’s choice since it is used for other analytics purposes. Android 12 will plug this gap, and this looks like a very welcome decision. Audience targeting, Personalisation, measurement and frequency management will get affected. Google has thus, shown its commitment to provide users with more control over their data and help bolster security and privacy. Over a longer time, changes like these will instil trust in the consumers, which will be good for the overall internet ecosystem.”

Google has confirmed that it, too, will make the change for Android users to opt out of ad tracking, but not in the same explicit manner that Apple has done. Starting with Android 12, developers will no longer have access to the users’ Advertising ID and if requested, it will return a string of zeros.

With the expected changes with Android 12, Google is planning to offer an alternative route for analytics and fraud prevention that will not use the Advertising ID and apps will not be able to collect the identifier if the user has opted out. As per Google’s latest update, Apps targeting Android 12 will also need to declare a Google Play services normal permission in the manifest file.

Speaking about the impact of this new change, Sam Dosanjh, Director - Media Buying, Programmatic & Strategy, FoxyMoron, remarked, “Google’s core business is selling ads, so making this more transparent like Apple would more significantly affect its bottomline. Rolling out an Opt-out option would allow those who are not aware of the option to continue to be tracked. It is only when a user is informed and aware that the option exists, that they can opt out.”

One of the key elements of how the digital advertising industry has been set up is that the ad platforms have access to the user information, so that advertisers can accordingly focus to target the ads of those users primarily. This can have an impact in the long run if it gets adopted by users and the platform en masse, especially to small and medium sized businesses as they cannot reach out to the universe of audience without focussed targeting, which is not possible without personalised ads.

Shahir Muneer, Founder and Director, Divo, added here, “I think in most part the big tech platforms are not selling private info to marketers or advertisers, but rather using the data within their platform to target for personalised ads. Privacy of data being sold or stolen may be there from some apps, but not all. I think some educated users may opt in for this to avoid usage being tracked, but will have to be ready to watch ads for products that may not interest them and hence, make it worse user experience. So, it is not necessarily a better option for users, and only helps those who feel his/her privacy of usage/ user info is more important than a worse experience using an app and seeing ads not relevant.”

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