Apple's anti-tracking moves shook up the ad world. Will Android's do the same?

"This is a couple years out, and we need to start thinking."

Android phone with Google app

Google announced it's bringing its Privacy Sandbox to Android.

Photo: Daniel Romero /Unsplash

For many advertisers, Google's blog post on Wednesday induced flashbacks. The company announced it is bringing the Privacy Sandbox to Android, which means that over the next two years, Android phones will phase out the same cross-app tracking mechanisms that Apple abruptly blocked last summer.

Apple’s privacy change, which requires users to opt in to cross-app tracking, wreaked havoc on advertising schemes that rely on profiling individual user data to track how people navigate their phones. Meta CFO David Wehner said in the company’s January earnings call that Apple’s change would cost Meta $10 billion this year. With upwards of 80% of global smartphone market share, an Android-wide shift could be even more significant.

Google is handling its rollout very differently, though, and as a result the industry seems to be breathing a sigh of relief. Google's Anthony Chavez called the project "a multi-year initiative" in the announcement post, and practically called out Apple for "bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers." Google, he said, would build better technology before cutting off existing tools. In general, it's proceeding similarly with the Android Privacy Sandbox to how it has rolled out the Privacy Sandbox for Chrome — which has already been delayed until at least 2023, in part because of the failure of Google's first cookie-free ad-tracking attempt, FLoC.

One Meta employee said the pacing of Google’s block on cross-app tracking gives the company significantly more time to prepare. “This is a much more well-rounded set of proposals that seems to be intended to actually address problems and find good solutions to them,” the employee said.

The relaxed timeline defines the core difference between Apple and Google’s approaches to tracking user data. While Apple tries to position itself as the king of user privacy, Google acknowledges that it’s balancing advertiser, publisher and user interests. This, in turn, has given Google — a company that brought in over $209 billion in ad revenue last year — even more of an edge with advertisers.

The Meta employee put it simply: The folks at Google “understand advertising much better.”

Still, it may not be business as usual. Ty Martin, founder and CEO of marketing analytics firm Ad Bacon, said he suspects the changes might be akin to when Google replaced DoubleClick IDs, which helped advertisers track individual users across the web, with the Ads Data Hub in 2018. This new tool, which aggregates data, is less powerful and requires too much technical data-science expertise for many people to use. “You don’t quite get the level of granularity,” Martin said.

As for what specific changes Google might be planning to make, Don Marti, vice president of Ecosystem Innovation at CafeMedia, pointed to the three new items on the Privacy Sandbox for Android's developer site. Those, he said, are the best clues yet as to what advertising without cross-app tracking on Android might look like.

Two are the Topics API and the Fledge API, which Google has also been testing for Chrome. Both would begin to allow advertisers to customize ad audiences without tracking individual users’ activity. A third feature, “SDK Runtime,” might then kneecap fingerprinting, whereby advertisers collect other third-party data to piece together information about individual users.

None of these features are Google's final answers, though. Rather, they’ve been introduced so that developers have time to review sample code, process what Google is trying to do and offer tweaks and suggestions. Advertisers should find solace in the fact that Google’s timeline is at least two years long, leaving them plenty of time to chime in.

Besides, advertisers are natural-born adapters, said Tinuiti Privacy Lead Nirish Parsad. “When I got my start in digital marketing, there were under 100 tools. Now, there’s over 8,000,” he said. “There’s plenty of smart people who will be working on this, and we’re looking at all the angles to better understand what durable solutions might be.”

The key, he said, is using all the time they have. “That doesn’t mean do nothing,” he cautioned. “It means this is a couple years out, and we need to start thinking.”


Gensler: Bitcoin may be a commodity

The SEC has been vague about crypto. But Gensler said bitcoin is a commodity, “maybe.” It’s the clearest glimpse of his views on digital assets yet.

“Bitcoin — maybe that’s a commodity token. That has a big market value, but that goes over there,” Gensler said, referring to another regulator, the CFTC.

Photoillustration: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Protocol

SEC Chair Gary Gensler has long argued that many cryptocurrencies are subject to regulation as securities.

But he recently clarified that this view wouldn’t apply to the best-known cryptocurrency, bitcoin.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.


What the economic downturn means for pay packages

The war for talent rages on, but dynamics are shifting back to the employers.

Compensation packages could start to look different as companies reshuffle the balance of cash and equity.

Illustration: Nuthawut Somsuk/Getty Images

The market is turning. Tech stocks are slumping — which is bad news for employees — and even industry powerhouses are slowing hiring and laying people off. Tech talent is still in high demand, but compensation packages could start to look different as companies recruit.

“It’s a little bit like whiplash,” compensation consultant Ashish Raina said of the downturn. Raina, who mainly works with startups that have 200 to 800 employees, previously worked as the director of Talent at Index Ventures and head of Compensation and Talent Analytics at Box. “I do think there’s going to be an interesting reckoning in terms of pay increases going forward, how that pay is delivered.”

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

How 'Zuck Bucks' saved the 2020 election — and fueled the Big Lie

The true story of how Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $419 million donation became the 2020 election’s most enduring conspiracy theory.

Mark Zuckerberg is smack in the center of one of the 2020 election’s multitudinous conspiracies.

Illustration: Mike McQuade; Photos: Getty Images

If Mark Zuckerberg could have imagined the worst possible outcome of his decision to insert himself into the 2020 election, it might have looked something like the scene that unfolded inside Mar-a-Lago on a steamy evening in early April.

There in a gilded ballroom-turned-theater, MAGA world icons including Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and former president Donald Trump himself were gathered for the premiere of “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump.”

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.


From frenzy to fear: Trading apps grapple with anxious investors

After riding the stock-trading wave last year, trading apps like Robinhood have disenchanted customers and jittery investors.

Retail stock trading is still an attractive business, as shown by the news that crypto exchange FTX is dipping its toes in the market by letting some U.S. customers trade stocks.

Photo: Lam Yik/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For a brief moment, last year’s GameStop craze made buying and selling stocks cool, even exciting, for a new generation of young investors. Now, that frenzy has turned to fear.

Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev pointed to “a challenging macro environment” marked by rising prices and interest rates and a slumping market in a call with analysts explaining his company’s lackluster results. The downturn, he said, was something “most of our customers have never experienced in their lifetimes.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories