Google makes it harder for Android apps to track you after you unsubscribe

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It’s getting harder for Android apps to track users who have opted out of receiving personalized ads, the Financial times reports, after Google announced changes to how it handles the unique device identifiers that allow marketers to track them between apps. Starting later this year, Google will cut off access to these “Ad IDs” after a user logs out, showing developers a “string of zeros” instead.

The news was announced in an email to Play Store developers and Google has also released its Advertising ID support page with the announcement. Google told developers the changes will “give users more control over their data and help strengthen security and privacy,” the company said Financial times reports.

The change comes a few months after Apple revised how advertising IDs work on iOS in an apparent effort to compete with the new policy. Recently, Google also announced that it’s adding privacy information to its Play Store listings, a similar feature Apple added to its App Store last year, as well as limiting which apps can see what you’ve installed on your phone.

Users have long been able to opt out of personalized ads on Android (you can do this by going into the Settings app, going to the Google menu and selecting “Ads”), but it seems developers aren’t into it right now. from having full access to your device’s advertising ID. AdExchanger reports that apps could previously use the identifier for non-advertising purposes, such as analytics and fraud prevention, and Google’s support page says it will announce an “alternative solution” for these use cases next month.

Google’s support page states that the rollout of the new policy will be phased. Android 12 devices will see the change “late 2021” before rolling out to all devices with Google Play early next year. XDA Developers reports that Google Play Services also notify existing apps with access to your advertising ID and related data so that they can be removed if necessary.

While Google’s announcement comes on the heels of Apple’s own changes to ad tracking, it’s not yet clear how similar the two approaches will be. Google’s support page still refers to the decision to stop tracking ads as an “opt-out” process, when Apple’s changes are effectively turning tracking into an opt-in decision. But regardless of how Google ultimately handles the process, it’s another potentially huge shock to the digital advertising industry.