Google Explores Alternative to Apple’s New Anti-Tracking Feature

Google is exploring an alternative to Apple Inc.’s new anti-tracking feature, the latest sign that the internet industry is slowly embracing user privacy, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Internally, the search giant is discussing how it can limit data collection and cross-app tracking on the Android operating system in a way that is less stringent than Apple’s solution, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private plans.

Google is trying to balance the rising demands of privacy-conscious consumers with the financial needs of developers and advertisers. The Alphabet Inc. unit is seeking input from these stakeholders, similar to how it’s slowly developing a new privacy standard for web browsing called the Privacy Sandbox.

With more than $100 billion in annual digital ad sales, Google has a vested interest in helping partners to continue generating revenue by targeting ads to Android device users and measuring the performance of those marketing spots.

“We’re always looking for ways to work with developers to raise the bar on privacy while enabling a healthy, ad-supported app ecosystem,” a Google spokesman said in a statement.

In a forthcoming software update for iPhones and iPads, called iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5, Apple is adding a new feature called App Tracking Transparency. The tool lets consumers choose whether apps can collect data about them across other apps and websites. The imminent move has shaken the digital advertising industry. Facebook Inc. and other companies have complained the feature will limit their ability to effectively serve personalized ads and generate revenue.

A Google solution is likely to be less strict and won’t require a prompt to opt in to data tracking like Apple’s, the people said. The exploration into an Android alternative to Apple’s feature is still in the early stages, and Google hasn’t decided when, or if, it will go ahead with the changes.

On the iPhone, Google offers developers a framework so they can monetize their apps using Google ads. In a recent blog post, Google said Apple’s ad-tracking update means developers “may see a significant impact” on their ad revenue.

To keep advertisers happy while improving privacy, the discussions around Google’s Android solution indicate that it could be similar to its planned Chrome web browser changes, the people said. The company said in 2020 that it intended to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome within two years. Google reaffirmed that plan earlier this year. Cookies are a way for websites to track users around the web to serve them more personalized ads.

Google’s web alternative, known as the Privacy Sandbox, allows some ad targeting with less-specific data collection. As part of that solution, the company has developed a technology called Federated Learning of Cohorts that lets advertisers target groups of people with similar interests rather than individuals. Google is likely to take a similar approach with Android.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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