“This will hurt Facebook hardest”: 12 performance marketers’ views on the Android tracking phase out

Power-grab or practical privacy? Google’s clampdown on cross-app tracking has divided adland. PMW spoke to key marketing leaders on how to prepare for the next big mobile data challenge…

Earlier this month, Google announced it was extending its plan to limit third-party data tracking to Android apps, taking its mobile operating system's privacy in-line with its Chrome browser. 

The move, set to phased in over the next two years, effectively puts an end to cross-app tracking on Android phones. 

This presents a huge challenge for performance marketers given that Android is by far the biggest mobile operating system in the world, with a 70% market share compared to 29% for Apple’s iOS, according to Stat Counter.

Anthony Chavez, Google’s VP for product management, Android security and privacy, said the move “will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID. 

“We’re also exploring technologies that reduce the potential for covert data collection, including safer ways for apps to integrate with advertising SDKs [software development kits],” he added.

How it works

Google’s suggestions include both restrictive measures and a set of features and innovations to make the advertisers’ life easier. The main proposals are the following: 

  1. New targeting options

To provide accurate targeting without violating privacy, Sandbox proposes the Topics API. This feature will send signals about the app categories an Android user prefers. Topics will be selected on the particular device and won’t be transferred to any third party.

 Another feature advertisers can adopt is FLEDGE API (First Locally-Executed Decision over Groups Experiment). This implies showing ads based on the audiences defined by app developers. All information is stored locally, which enhances the users’ privacy. 

  1. Campaign results tracking

Android Privacy Sandbox will help advertisers measure their campaign performance not with advertising ID as it used to be but with Attribution API. This tracking method allows to exclude cross-party user identifiers and keeps personal data safe.

  1. Covert tracking limitations

To exclude covert tracking methods such as fingerprinting, Google enables SDK Runtime. This feature keeps the app’s code isolated and protected from the advertising code, limiting third-party access to personal data

The tech giant’s announcement has sent tremors across the industry. While some ad executives and publishers fear the move is another attempt to force publishers to use the Google walled garden, others feel it is a step in the right direction that acts as a compromise, especially when compared to Apple’s more recent clampdowns on mobile app tracking.

To find out more, Performance Marketing World reached out to key industry players for their opinions and tips on Android’s impending privacy purge.

“Unlike iOS, Android users won’t get an option to restrict tracking with one click”

Sam O’Brien, CMO of performance marketing platform affise: “Over 90% of apps for Android are free, which is thanks to mobile advertising. This is the reason why Google has decided to avoid any blunt restrictions of current tracking methods advertisers use. 

“SKAdNetwork (StoreKit Ad Network) and other privacy-protective measures released by Apple created a lot of hustle in 2021. Advertisers and marketing platforms managed to adjust to the changes. However, Google is taking a much more flexible and pro-advertising approach with its Android Privacy Sandbox. 

“Google has declared its willingness to collaborate with advertisers and regulators to build the most suitable solution. Unlike iOS, Android users won’t get an option to restrict tracking with one click. According to Apple’s ATT rules, apps had to ask users for permission to track their advertising ID, and the majority didn’t give their consent to it. Whereas, Android Sandbox implies refusing to use advertising ID and building an ecosystem to track and store users’ data without revealing their identity or transferring it to third parties. Android Privacy Sandbox appears to be a wise way to protect users’ privacy online without hurting mobile advertisers. Google’s system doesn’t simply restrict targeting and tracking opportunities. 

“AI-driven predictive modelling is a key alternative solution for identifying users”

Leonard Newnham, Chief Data Scientist, LoopMe: “Google’s update will no doubt lead to a certain amount of disruption as advertisers adjust to new targeting methods, but the move shouldn’t come as a surprise – being the logical next step in the tech giant’s phasing out of third-party cookies. To avoid any potential negative impact to campaign performance, advertisers should continue to build their data and predictive capabilities in line with privacy-centric technologies. For example, AI-driven predictive modelling, that adapts and learns at scale to deliver against brand goals, is a key alternative solution for identifying users – one that puts the user first while optimising campaigns to deliver effective media performance.”

“A divide in priorities”

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. In terms of attribution, a large part of its effectiveness will rely on the amount of relevant data available from app users when accessing reports, which from this current announcement, looks to be limited. 

“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 analyse 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.” 

“This will hurt Facebook hardest”

Farhad Divecha, MD and Founder at AccuraCast: "Advertisers will need to shore up their own customer data, as they'll be less and less able to depend on ad networks to identify reliable customer matching. This will hurt Facebook hardest - but server tracking technology will still enable FB advertisers to bypass these provisions for their most valuable visitors - the ones who convert into a sale or lead… If an app uses the Facebook Software Development Kit (SDK) to track activity on the Facebook Pixel, Facebook may no longer be able to access specific user data from the app in the background.

"SDK developers (like Facebook) will… have to publish their SDKs to the Android app store, and then the app store would then handle the distribution of apps, along with any SDK dependencies, to end-user devices. Idle browsers will be the ones most difficult to track and remarket to, because server tracking tech largely doesn't capture enough info about these users to be able to identify them and retarget them.

"Interesting to see Google citing a study that directly criticises Apple's privacy provisions and calls them "ineffective. Cynically speaking, does this hurt Google - not really - if anything, they could come out of it much better off, since advertisers will be forced to spend even more, when they lose the ability to be laser-focused with their ad targeting. It feels like we'll be taking a step back to the days of TV, when advertisers knew that half their ad spend was wasted, but didn't know which half!"

“Closing the door on fingerprinting as a privacy-evading workaround”

Lloyd Davies, Managing Director UK, Making Science: “Google’s announcement emphasises the digital advertising ecosystem’s shift away from individual personalised data and towards aggregated cohorts based on current interest data and historical contextual data; the Android version of Topics and Fledge. Also, Google is rightly looking to close the door on 'covert data collection' that enables probabilistic fingerprinting as a privacy-evading workaround. While the immediate and obvious impact will be that ads are less targeted and there will be a decline in acquisition-focused efficiency, counterintuitively the move might see an improvement in the total impact of digital campaigns as focus starts to shift to incremental growth.” 

“Marketers shifting to deterministic, single source data to understand the path to purchase” 

Andrew Carmody, CMO, ViewersLogic: "While we applaud and support any activities that enhance consumers' privacy, security and right to consent, we recognise that this action presents significant challenges to brands and advertisers in their quest to understand and reach a target audience. This move will accelerate the adoption of a new generation of data sources that preserve user privacy while enabling marketers to draw a direct line between media spend and consumer action. In this instance, we’ve seen marketers shifting to deterministic, single source data to understand the path to purchase and assess media effectiveness across channels. Keeping up momentum towards the use of empirically accurate and consented data is imperative if advertisers want to succeed in a world where data is shrinking."

“Google will impose its framework on Android even more aggressively than Apple does on iOS”

Romain Job, Chief Strategy Officer, Smart AdServer: "The announcement of the deployment of Google's Privacy Sandbox within its Android ecosystem was indeed predictable. The announcement of the removal of the IDFA [Identifier for Advertisers on Apple’s iOS] was more surprising, but finally in line with the expected schedule of the disappearance of third-party cookies. Google would therefore impose its framework on Android even more aggressively than Apple does on iOS – it has full latitude in the application market and does not have to embrace the W3C and third-party browsers. It remains to be clarified whether Google reserves access to proprietary identifiers in parallel.”

"The development of data clean room technologies will offer a neutral, safe space"

Paul Wright, Managing Director UK, FR, MENA & TR, AppsFlyer: “The announcement of the deployment of Google's Privacy Sandbox on Android is an expected continuation of an ecosystem that continues to prioritise user privacy. Since Apple’s ATT Framework set the tone for these changes last year, the mobile marketing landscape has continued to innovate and embrace privacy-privacy preserving ways to drive mobile marketing performance.

“For Android mobile marketers, having the right technology in place will be crucial in order to continue generating valuable insights without compromising on privacy. For example, the use of predictive measurement solutions in conjunction with creative approaches will be vital to retain, engage and monetise users while providing personalised user experience in a privacy-compliant environment. In addition, the development of data clean room technologies will offer a neutral, safe space for multiple entities to collaborate using 1st-party user data’’ 

 “No channel will escape changes”

Alexander Azarov, CEO and Founder, Clickio: "The focus on user privacy is industry-wide, and no channel will escape changes. The question is not if, but when. It makes sense for Google to go step-by-step and phase out the cookies first, as this experience will inform the design of the Android roll-out. At the same time, the app sector will now have to pay close attention to what is happening with cookies.”

“Finding the best trade-off between user privacy and marketing performance”

Julien Hirth, Co-founder and GM, Scibids: “Google is seeking to satiate the demands of privacy-conscious consumers and simultaneously balance the requirements of regulators with the financial needs of advertisers. A massive engineering challenge given the numerous use cases attached to cookies and shared user ids across the industry but also a significant step toward a privacy-friendly future for the industry! Still, a lot of open questions to be solved but we can appreciate Chrome’s willingness to collaborate with the industry in order to find the best trade-off between user privacy and marketing performance." 

“Innovation is needed to remove the industry’s reliance on Google and Apple”

Chris Hogg, EMEA Managing Director, Lotame: “It has been heavily predicted that Google would follow Apple and restrict the use of the Android ID, so this news comes as no surprise. Google has encountered ongoing confusion and indecision in its attempts to create alternatives to third party cookies and it continues to generate controversy in the industry, recently drawing an antitrust complaint filed by the European Publishers Council claiming that it violated EU competition rules by favouring its own online display advertising technology services. This latest move to an Android Privacy Sandbox, will no doubt cause additional concern and provides even more evidence that innovation is needed to remove the industry’s reliance on Google and Apple to navigate ad campaigns effectively.”