The Publisher Brief: Android Privacy Sandbox

Hot on the heels of the introduction of Google Topics, the tech giant is setting its sights on the mobile ecosystem with the announcement of the Android Privacy Sandbox. But what does this mean for mobile publishers and developers?

The Headlines

  • Google is expanding its suite of privacy-focused initiatives, the Privacy Sandbox, to its mobile ecosystem via the Android operating system.
  • Testing for the solutions contained in the Android Privacy Sandbox will begin in 2022 as part of a multi-year rollout. Developers can review the proposals now and sign up for developer previews as beta programs go live.
  • The move is another in a line of technology changes focused on consumer privacy online, and is likely to herald Google’s eventual deprecation of the Android Ad ID, though no changes to this ID have yet been made.

What is the Android Privacy Sandbox?

Announced by Google VP, Product Management, Android Security & Privacy, Anthony Chavez, on February 16th 2022, the Android Privacy Sandbox is an extension of the existing suite of proposals in the Google Chrome desktop space.

The goal of the new mobile-focused privacy proposals is to bring the philosophy of user privacy, a driving force behind the deprecation of third-party cookies in Google’s browser, to the mobile ecosystem. It follows Apple’s introduction of the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework in 2021, which had an immediate, measurable impact on advertisers by way of a pop-up allowing users to opt-out of sharing their IDFA for tracking purposes.

Announced soon after Google’s switch from FLoC to Topics last month, the Android Privacy Sandbox will initially include four different proposals, including several privacy-preserving APIs which you may recognize from the desktop space:

  1. SDK Runtime will be added to Android 13 and aims to adjust the way permissions are shared within an app’s sandbox. Historically, any SDK running within an app’s sandbox would inherit the permissions of the parent app, opening the door to potential data collection concerns. With the SDK Runtime, Android will allow apps to run third-party SDKs in a dedicated runtime environment with unique permissions and controls.
  2. Topics is the newest addition to the sandbox, leveraging broad contextual targeting to assign users to interest groups on a time-limited basis.
  3. FLEDGE on Android serves ads based on a developer’s chosen custom audiences (or interest groups) and their interactions with the app. This data is stored locally with ad serving decisions also being made using on-device signals only. FLEDGE will enable developers to remarket to their existing customer base.
  4. Attribution Reporting enables conversion tracking, machine-learning optimization, and invalid activity tracking without the use of cross-app identifiers.

Is Google making any changes to the Android Ad ID?

A clear concern for anyone operating in the Android space will be how these changes to the mobile ecosystem will impact the existing tracking solutions, primarily the cross-app identifier, Android Ad ID.

Google has assured mobile ad players that they “plan to support existing ads platform features for at least two years, and [...] intend to provide substantial notice ahead of any future changes.” For anyone impacted by Apple’s overnight switch-off of IDFA tracking, this should come as a relief.

In the meantime, players on all sides of the mobile ad ecosystem should begin researching what the Android Privacy Sandbox means for them and their mobile advertising strategy.

When will the Android Privacy Sandbox be available to developers?

Right now, the proposals for each element of the Android Privacy Sandbox are available to review on the Android Developer site.

Development on each proposal will continue throughout 2022 along with developer previews and closed testing phases. By the end of 2022, Google is planning for a beta release of both the SDK Runtime and the privacy-preserving APIs.

What does the Android Privacy Sandbox mean for the mobile ad ecosystem?

For developers and mobile-first publishers, this move marks the beginning of the phasing out of cross-app identifiers in Android. It’s further proof that the future of digital advertising is first-party and authenticated.

For commentary on what the Android Privacy Sandbox means for the mobile ads ecosystem, we asked Zee Ahmad, Portfolio Director at IPONWEB, to share his thoughts.

“From a measurement perspective, there are unsurprisingly similarities to both Apple and Google's approach in that SkAdNetwork and the Attribution API both move away from ID level attribution. Of interest will be if or how Google offers greater insight into key metrics such as creative and ad group level reporting, as well as the all-important conversion attribution window. The initial signs are that Google’s approach will be more in step with the needs of advertising partners.”

“Outside of measurement, the consideration given to targeting and audience creation offers some insight into how the industry may continue to provide relevant ads to new customers and remarket to existing ones. It also potentially opens the door for new targeting opportunities for developers outside of the in app ecosystem, given TOPICS and FLEDGE are set up for use on web and app.”

“Finally, the proposed initiatives around SDK Runtime will help limit the scope of the data exposed by third-party SDKs, which helps enhance privacy at source but also has the potential to alter the dynamic between app publishers and third-party SDKs. No longer will third-party SDKs need integration with apps prior to Play Store submission. Instead, third-party SDKs can be uploaded to the Play Store independently and apps which use these SDKs can indicate dependencies at download.“

Want to learn more about how the Android Privacy Sandbox may impact you as a mobile-first publisher?

Get in touch today!

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