THE owner of Facebook has been dealt another blow after Google announced Wednesday that it would limit ad tracking on billions of Android devices.
The move, which follows a similar policy introduced by Apple last year, will "raise the bar for user privacy", the US search giant said.
Ad tracking allows marketers to hoover up data as people move between apps on their phones.
It's used by companies such as Meta – formerly Facebook – and Google to target ads and is a huge source of revenue for them.
But tech giants are under growing pressure to better balance privacy and ad-targeting as users complain and regulators threaten tougher rules.
The companies themselves, on the other hand, are trying to maintain access to the data helping them earn billions in ad revenue.
Apple has about 50 per cent of the US smartphone market while Google's Android software is used on roughly 85 per cent of smartphones globally.
Any changes to Android could therefore impact the data from billions of users.
At present, the internet search giant assigns an identity to Android-powered devices.
This enables advertisers to have a profile of people's online habits and thus send them ads they might be interested in.
"Our goal… is to develop effective and privacy enhancing advertising solutions, where users know their information is protected, and developers and businesses have the tools to succeed on mobile," Google said in a statement.
For its part, Apple announced last year that users of its one billion iPhones in circulation can decide whether to allow their online activity to be tracked for the purpose of targeting ads.
It was a change that Apple said shows its focus is on privacy, but that critics noted does not prevent the company itself from tracking its users.
Apple's tweak has sent ripples through the tech world, with Meta saying it expects that policy to cost it $10 billion in lost revenue this year.
A heavy impact is expected because less data will impact the precision of the ads Meta and other companies can sell, and thus their price.
Google gave an indication of the timing of its announced changes, saying "we plan to support existing ads platform features for at least two years, and we intend to provide substantial notice ahead of any future changes."
The company said it is working on ways to better protect users' privacy, which would "limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID."
It contrasted its plans with Apple's moves, saying, "we realise that other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers."
Meta reacted to the news with some relief.
"Encouraging to see this long-term, collaborative approach to privacy-protective personalized advertising from Google," tweeted the company's vice president of ad product marketing Graham Mudd.
While Google argued that the changes would protect users' anonymity, it could also further strengthen the dominance the tech giant already holds over the digital advertising industry.
Google's parent Alphabet pulled in over $60billion in the fourth quarter of 2021 just in ad revenue, which makes up over 80 per cent of its income.
"Google has a number of ways around (tracking). They are monitoring so much of what you do, and control so much of what goes on in the web search environment," said analyst Rob Enderle.
"Tracking is much more important to Facebook than it is to Google," he added, referring to the search giant's multiple online services that offer more varied sources of user data.
In other news, a British woman has told of her horror after scammers used photos of a "silver fox" politician to trick her out of £80,000.
Norfolk County Council is suing Apple over what it says was misleading information about iPhone sales.
The creators of a chilling new horror game say that the title is so disturbing they've been forced to censor it on PlayStation.
And, Apple has announced updates to AirTags following claims that the coin-sized tracking devices are being used to stalk people.
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