Google announced on Wednesday that it plans to limit the amount of personal information shared on Android, the world-leading mobile phone operating system used by more than 2.5 billion people around the globe.
The shift comes a year after Apple curtailed the amount of personal data shared by users of its mobile operating system – a change that sent shock waves through the digital advertising world and contributed to a collapse in Facebook’s share price.
In a blogpost Anthony Chavez, vice-president of product management, Android security and privacy, noted that advertising plays a “key role” in allowing most mobile apps to be free but added that “the industry must continue to evolve how digital advertising works to improve user privacy”.
Android’s operating system runs on about 72% of mobile devices worldwide compared with Apple’s rival iOS, which runs on about 26.9% of devices. The change is likely to upend the digital advertising market – limiting the massive amounts of data that app companies collect from their users.
But it also comes at a time when Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is coming under ever greater scrutiny from regulators around the world over its dominance of digital advertising. The news is likely to trigger concerns that the Android changes will further cement Alphabet’s dominance in mobile ads.
In an apparent swipe at Apple, Chavez said the changes would be made over the next two years and in conjunction with the industry. “We realize that other platforms have taken a different approach to ads privacy, bluntly restricting existing technologies used by developers and advertisers. We believe that – without first providing a privacy-preserving alternative path – such approaches can be ineffective and lead to worse outcomes for user privacy and developer businesses,” wrote Chavez.
While the industry may argue over its execution, Apple and soon Google’s privacy policies are one of the few sweeping and US-wide restrictions on how consumer data is collected and used. There are no federal laws regulating the collection and distribution of personal user information.
Last year Apple updated its mobile system to force apps to ask for users’ permission in order to track them around the web. The company has long positioned itself as a champion of privacy and its chief executive, Tim Cook, has regularly clashed with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg over the ethics – and value – of unfettered data sharing.
The clash came to a head earlier this month when Zuckerberg blamed Apple’s changes for a disastrous set of earnings that led to a record-setting fall in Facebook owner Meta’s share price.
Johana Bhuiyan contributed to this report.