Privacy Sandbox on Android is Google’s way of mitigating the risks posed by online tracking

Google makes the majority of its money by selling data to advertisers, which they can then use to target specific people who might be interested in their products. This is why if you search for say “plot for sale in Nakuru” chances are the next time you are browsing the internet you will be met with ads revolving around the real estate business in Kenya.

However, as more people are becoming aware of how they are tracked across different sites on the internet, the number of those who are not exactly pleased is growing. Hence, Google has decided to come up with a new system dubbed the Privacy Sandbox that will hopefully be used in the future to balance the privacy of Android users while still providing sufficient data to advertisers to carry out their advertising campaigns.

“Today, we’re announcing a multi-year initiative to build the Privacy Sandbox on Android, with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions. Specifically, these solutions will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID. We’re also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs,” says Google on its official blog.

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Google’s first foray with the Privacy Sandbox was using a system called FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). FLoC works by adding a user into a group with other people that it thinks might have the same interests. These interests are still acquired by looking at your browsing history, but rather than sending this data to third parties through cookies, you are put into groups called cohorts with people who have similar interests. The advertisers will then have access to these cohorts, but not to a specific individual’s data. The cohorts will then be updated weekly as what you are interested in this week, might be different the following week.

FLoC system however did not last long and Google has currently moved to a system called Topics API. Topics API works by providing advertisers with five topics that Google thinks you are interested in. This is still based on your browsing history.

Apple on the other hand, who are not particularly invested in making money from advertisements, has taken a blunter approach to the matter regarding users being tracked on their iOS platform.

iPhone users receive a notification with an option to opt-out when an app is using their data for ad tracking, which most people normally do. Once a user opts out, Apple blocks all ad tracking mechanisms on that particular app, which ultimately leads to advertisers spending less money on their campaigns since the campaigns will not be as effective compared to when they are tailored to a specific user’s browsing habits. Google does not want this.

​​”We realize that other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers. 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.” a section on Google’s blog seemingly refers to Apple’s method.

It is clear that Google is still to figure out the best way to go about this which will leave both users and advertisers satisfied. To this extent, they are giving themselves a two-year timeline to find a solution before the current advertising methods are ultimately dropped for good.

Naftaly is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for tech, video games and pop culture. When he is not writing articles for AndroidKenya, he is probably rewatching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the hundredth time. Email at Twitter @KarisNaftaly