Google Just Gave Meta's Facebook Business More Bad News

Apps that are notorious for sharing tracking data with third parties should beware — Google has just announced that it will be bringing Privacy Sandbox from Chrome to Android. Made to limit tracking and offer a little more privacy to users, the Privacy Sandbox is still in development, and this applies to both the web version and the upcoming Android initiative. Instead of taking the plunge and making cuts without any feedback, Google is inviting app developers to participate in this privacy overhaul.

More privacy is always good — that's not an opinion, but a fact. In this day and age, our data is exceptionally sought after. Companies like Meta (formerly Facebook) keep and share a lot of user data (and may use it maliciously), including browsing habits, shopping trends, and other useful information. When shared, this data can be used to tailor ads to the customer. Considering that around 90% of apps on Android are free to download, but contain ads, this makes them a powerful tool and a massive source of income. Unfortunately for the users, browsing data, once shared, is out there forever.

While the sharing of user data is not good for the people affected, it is a source of revenue for app developers. If the app is free to download, it usually relies on advertising revenue in order to make a profit. While tech giants like Meta can afford to lose, indie developers can be heavily affected by any changes made to data tracking policies. It seems that Google is opting to introduce these changes gently and slowly. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Google is inviting app devs to collaborate

In the statement Google released regarding Privacy Sandbox for Android, the company takes a rather neutral stance while emphasizing the need to adapt digital advertising to protect user privacy. It's pretty clear Google is not trying to completely cut advertising out of the mix. Inviting developers to participate in the way the new policies are created should help the company avoid hurting indie developers in the process.

"​​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," said Google in its statement.

In order to achieve this, Google shared a few of the first steps it plans to take on its Android Developer website. It seems the company wants to build new technology that preserves user privacy while still helping free app publishers make a profit. In addition to the Privacy Sandbox details provided for developers, the company's mention of other platforms is pretty telling. Apple recently went through a similar change, and the results were devastating for indie app devs.

Apple was first, but was it better?

Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency in 2021 in order to increase user data privacy. It works in a very simple way: users are asked to allow tracking within each app instead of having to opt out of it manually. Not having to jump through hoops in order to avoid being tracked was definitely a bonus, though the system isn't perfect. On the other hand, Consumer Acquisition's Brian Bowman told GamesBeat that some ad providers saw an up to 20% drop in ad revenue, which goes to show how drastic a change App Tracking Transparency still was.

iOS users typically are more eager to spend money on apps than Android users, which probably gives Apple a little more freedom to act in such situations. According to Statista, Apple users spend twice as much money on apps than Android users. With that in mind, if Apple devs still noted a huge drop in ad revenue, it means that Apple may have acted too quickly with too little input from app publishers.

Balancing data privacy and making money is a tough thing to do where online services are concerned. Although Google's Privacy Sandbox may take a while to make any changes, there is a chance that the team might manage to strike a good balance between the two.