Home Privacy The Android Privacy Sandbox Is Now In Beta

The Android Privacy Sandbox Is Now In Beta

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Comic: Making A Privacy Play

Third-party cookie deprecation in Chrome has been delayed so many times it’s become a punchline.

But progress in the Android Privacy Sandbox is proceeding apace.

On Tuesday, Google announced the first beta release of Android Privacy Sandbox, which will roll out to a small percentage of Android 13 devices to start, then expand to more devices over time. Google didn’t share a specific timeframe, but the beta release itself is happening on time.

Google told developers in late 2022 to expect the beta to kick off early this year.

In the interim, Google made the Android Privacy Sandbox APIs available to developers for testing. Hundreds of developers shared their feedback during that process, which Google said it used to improve the API designs.

Sandbox refresh

The Android Privacy Sandbox includes four APIs: Topics, FLEDGE, attribution reporting and SDK Runtime.

Topics, FLEDGE and the attribution API are mobile app versions of their web-based counterparts in the Chrome Privacy Sandbox. The Topics API supports basic targeting minus cross-app identifiers. FLEDGE does the same, but for remarketing, and the attribution API is for privacy-safe (or safer) reporting.

SDK Runtime is unique to Android Privacy Sandbox and is a harbinger of much signal loss to come. The API creates a separate environment to run third-party SDKs that prevents them from gathering in-app data without permission, which had become common practice on Android.

Next steps

Developers that choose to take part in the beta will have access to all four APIs, and users that are selected to participate will get a notification alerting them.

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Users can opt out of the beta, but if they play along, they’ll be able to access a “Privacy Sandbox” section in their settings.

From there, users can view, manage and make changes to the interests (aka topics) apps use to target them with ads.

But what’s up with GAID?

Google first announced the Android Privacy Sandbox in February 2022, including making a thinly veiled allusion to the likely phaseout of the Google Ad ID or GAID (Android’s answer to the IDFA).

At the time, Anthony Chavez, Google’s VP of product management for Privacy Sandbox, said Google planned to “support existing ad platform features, including Ad ID, for at least two years.”

And that was one year ago.

Google didn’t share any further information about GAID’s future as part of its Android Privacy Sandbox beta announcement, but it did use the opportunity to throw a little shade at Apple.

Blunt approaches that don’t provide viable alternatives harm app developers,” Chavez wrote in Tuesday’s blog post. “And they don’t work for user privacy either, leading to less private ways of tracking users like device fingerprinting.”

The phrase “blunt approaches” is also hyperlinked in Google’s blog post. When clicked, it directs you to a piece of independent research that explicitly questions the effectiveness of Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework, asking whether ATT stops third-party tracking “or is just an illusion of privacy.”

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