Roughly a year ago, Google first detailed its ‘Privacy Sandbox‘ plan for Android. In short, the goal was to create a way for advertisers to serve relevant ads to users without hurting user privacy. Now, Google’s back with a beta for Privacy Sandbox.
When it comes to serving ads without hurting privacy, the main idea seems to be replacing cross-app and cross-device identifiers like advertising IDs with a service that estimates what your interests are and temporarily saves those on your device.
Dubbed ‘Interests estimated by Android,’ this part of Privacy Sandbox estimates users’ interests based on the apps they have installed. Then developers can leverage Google’s ‘FLEDGE’ API to show ads based on “custom audiences.”
It sounds like it will enable advertisers to target, say, users with an interest in a specific topic like smartphones, and then apps can show smartphone ads to Android users if Android determines those users are interested in that topic. (This also ties in Google’s Topics API that replaced the FLoC system Google had planned to integrate into Chrome).
Can I opt-in (or out?)
With that out of the way, the big question about the Privacy Sandbox beta is what it means for users. To start, Google says Privacy Sandbox will roll out “gradually.” It will start with a small percentage of Android 13 devices and expand to more over time. An Android notification will let you know if you’ve been selected (so far, it seems I have not been selected).
Google also says that apps that choose to participate in the Privacy Sandbox beta will be able to use the new APIs mentioned above to show relevant ads to users and measure how effective those ads are.
Users can control their beta participation by heading into Settings > Security & privacy > More privacy settings > Ads (it’s worth noting the exact location of Privacy Sandbox may vary depending on your device manufacturer).
The Privacy Sandbox settings will allow users to turn the feature on or off, as well as manage the interests and the apps that can use those to show relevant ads. For example, users can block an interest, which will prevent Android from adding that interest to the list again (though Google says users might still see relevant ads).
It’ll be interesting to see how Privacy Sandbox works out. I’m not convinced it will address the privacy concerns, though it may prove a little better than the existing system of relentless tracking.