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Google brings Privacy Sandbox initiative to Android

Multi-year effort likely to bring new Topics API to mobile OS

Google has announced plans to bring its Privacy Sandbox anti-tracking initiative to the Android operating system.

The move, floated in a blog post on Wednesday, will be part of a multi-year effort, which will see Google build measures into the OS that will limit the ability of applications to share user data with third parties.

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The privacy sandbox will also force apps to operate without cross-app identifiers, making it harder for developers to track individuals across different applications.

In Android 13, it plans to introduce a separate runtime environment for the advertising software development kits (SDKs) that serve up ads to app users. Currently, these SDKs run inside the host app's sandbox, which Google says risks covert data collection and sharing.

Google has published its initial design proposals for the Android version of its Privacy Sandbox. It will release developer previews in the coming months and will have a beta release by the end of the year.

The company is inviting developer feedback on proposed solutions including FLEDGE for Android, which Google says uses audience segmentation information stored on the user's device to deliver relevant ads via an API.

Launched in 2019, the Privacy Sandbox initiative is Google's attempt to reduce unauthorized third-party tracking while still supporting advertisers. It hopes to eliminate cookies and fingerprinting.

As part of the initiative, Google replaced third-party cookies with its Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) technology, which tracked people in aggregate, classifying them by their interests. This generated controversy in the industry, drawing an antitrust complaint from several states and causing several other browsers and online services to decline support for it.

Google abandoned FLoC last month in favour of its Topics API for interest-based advertising. It has also used the Android Privacy Sandbox initial proposals page to solicit feedback from developers on this approach.

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