Android could copy the iPhone's best privacy features — what you need to know

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There’s been a big pushback against companies tracking your activity online in recent years, especially on mobile. Apple has already taken measures to limit it, with more on the way, and it sounds like Android might be following its example.

According to a report from Bloomberg, “Google is exploring its own alternative to Apple’s anti-tracking feature." Specifically, the measure is said to be about limiting data collection and cross-app tracking methods.

Apple limiting tracking is one thing, but Google getting on board is a big deal, given its reliance on advertising revenue. 

User data is often used to personalize adverts, in an attempt to make them more relevant to the viewer. So by limiting tracking on Android, Google could well be curtailing its own attempts to make money.

Apple doesn’t have this issue, since it has no stake in the advertising business. Instead, Cupertino chooses to earn the bulk of its money from services like the App Store and device sales.

Google’s ad business is worth over $100 billion in annual sales, so the company is said to be taking input from advertisers and developers as it develops a new privacy standard dubbed the "Privacy Sandbox.”

For this reason, Android’s anti-tracking system is said to be “less stringent” than Apple’s. While Apple’s upcoming privacy overhaul will specifically prompt users to opt-in for data tracking, Android’s will not. It's all as part of a balancing act to ensure user privacy is being maintained, without angering the advertisers in the process.

Bloomberg noted that the new system on Android could be similar to changes that are happening to Google Chrome next year. Google’s plan is to phase out third-party cookies, which can track users around the web to serve ads.

The new Android privacy initiative is still in its early stages, and Google reportedly “hasn’t decided when, or if, it will go ahead with the changes.” No doubt a lot of work is going to be needed to avoid the same advertising industry backlash that Apple has been experiencing in recent months. And unlike Apple, Google actually has something to lose by getting on the advertisers' bad side.

So don’t expect things to suddenly change with the launch of Android 12, though stranger things have happened.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.