Attribution Will Never Be The Same On Android – But This Is Not SKAdNetwork All Over Again

Google and Apple's respective takes on the future of app attribution provide a perfect example of the contrast between the Android Privacy Sandbox and ATT.

The concepts underpinning Google’s newly announced Android Privacy Sandbox are still only that – concepts.

Google will gather feedback from the industry before releasing fleshed-out versions for initial developer testing coming soon, followed by a formal beta at the end of this year.

But as sketchy as the specifics are at the moment, it’s clear there is a chasm of difference between Google’s slow road toward the eventual deprecation of its device ID and Apple’s more nuclear approach to privacy on iOS.

Their respective takes on app attribution provide a perfect example of the contrast.

Sandbox vs. SKAD

Apple didn’t liaise with the industry before releasing SKAdNetwork (SKAD), its privacy-preserving API for measuring and validating aggregated app installs, and the tool’s functionality is spare by design. For instance, SKAD doesn’t enable web-to-app conversion measurement or support reengagement campaigns that target known users or customers.

Although it’s still very early in the process, the Attribution Reporting API in the Android Privacy Sandbox addresses both concerns. The API would also allow for configurable attribution windows (between two and up to 30 days) and it offers two different types of reporting.

Event-level reports would associate a click or ad view with limited bits of granular data, like a specific piece of creative, for example, which could help train machine learning models. Aggregate reports, meanwhile, would pull in what Google refers to as “richer, higher-fidelity” data for insights into performance at the campaign level without being able to distinguish individuals.

According to Google, these report types are complementary and could be used simultaneously.

Google may be more accommodating to advertisers than Apple, but app attribution will still never be the same.

And so we asked the experts: Will the Android Privacy Sandbox end up being a nightmare for attribution?

  • Mike Brooks, SVP, revenue, WeatherBug
  • Łukasz Włodarczyk, VP, programmatic ecosystem growth & innovation, RTB House
  • Alex Bauer, head, product marketing & market strategy, Branch
  • Julie Rubash, chief privacy counsel, Sourcepoint
  • Richard Lloyd, SVP, product & solutions, InfoSum

Mike Brooks, SVP, revenue, WeatherBug

It’s hard to call the proposed Android Sandbox an attribution nightmare when it’s comparatively much more advertising-friendly than Apple’s SKAdNetwork. In contrast to Apple’s privacy framework today – 20 months after announcing ATT – Google is more prescriptive, tackles more use cases and balances ecosystem needs with consumer needs more scientifically.

A novel idea from this proposal I appreciate is the clear stratification of data sharing into event-level and aggregated classes. Although we’ll debate and negotiate where the line is, this approach frames an important, specific question: What data needs to be shared at the user level and what doesn’t?

The fact that these computations are occurring on the device is a cornerstone to the privacy arc of Google’s sandbox – and with that comes constraints. Without a minimization function, ads systems proliferated device IDs, RTB data and more with little incentive to constrain.

Łukasz Włodarczyk, VP, programmatic ecosystem growth & innovation, RTB House

As an industry, we must do everything possible to ensure that future solutions are in line with the spirit of user privacy and regulatory changes while being useful for marketers. But we shouldn’t directly compare them to the current technology or practices, because that doesn’t fit with the rise in privacy standards.

Future systems will have to be much more sophisticated to face the “privacy versus utility” dilemma.

Alex Bauer, head, product marketing & market strategy, Branch

When it comes to attribution, changes like Privacy Sandbox have to be placed on a spectrum.

At one end, we have “the good old days” of completely open access to attribution via universal platform IDs, like GAID. Compared to that, one could objectively say Privacy Sandbox is “worse.” Data will be limited and accessing it will be more complicated than before.

The other extreme is the complete removal of existing attribution methodologies without replacement. Compared to that future, Privacy Sandbox is like Christmas in February.

But there’s a better way to think about these changes. The last two years have proved without doubt that mobile users now view their privacy as a legitimate concern. This means protecting user privacy is now equivalent in importance to guarding against security breaches. Building with privacy in mind often requires more work and might seem “harder” – but it’s a nonnegotiable requirement.

It’s still early, but I’m optimistic the proposals in Privacy Sandbox will allow mobile advertisers to continue measuring the performance of their campaigns to run their businesses without risks to user privacy.

Julie Rubash, chief privacy counsel, Sourcepoint

Google’s recent announcement creates a divide in priorities. On the one hand, the lack of cross-app tracking and a shift in focus to group interests is a huge win for privacy. But, on the other, the mobile app industry – which is heavily reliant on targeted advertising – will need to adapt quickly.

The future effectiveness of attribution will largely rely on the amount of relevant data available from app users when accessing reports.

In its Privacy Sandbox for Android, Google appears to be limiting the amount of conversion data available in its reporting to improve privacy, which could make it harder for developers to analyze campaigns and user activity. Ultimately, modern technology that doesn’t rely on the same level of user data will need to be implemented, but this has to be seen as a positive for consumer privacy overall.

Richard Lloyd, SVP, product & solutions, InfoSum

From what we’ve seen so far, it’s likely that Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals will be more complex than Apple’s ATT and SKAdNetwork. But if the Chrome Privacy Sandbox has taught us anything, it’s that we might see an entirely different solution two years from now.

Since the announcement was light on details, we’ll need to learn what Google will attempt to enforce contractually in the Play Store terms and conditions to know what the real impact on attribution will be. The big winner so far from ATT has been Apple – and Google faces an industry rightly skeptical that the beneficiary from the Android Privacy Sandbox might just be Google’s own ads business.

When it comes to attribution, especially, will advertisers tolerate Google marking its own homework?

Answers have been lightly edited and condensed.

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