Google just announced a huge win for personal privacy

But Google doesn't want a repeat of Apple's sweeping changes.
Brad Bergan
A Google office building (left), and an Android smartphone (right).1, 2

Google has announced that it's developing new privacy measures capable of drawing a line around data sharing on smartphones using its Android software, according to a press release from the firm.

However, Google also said its new policies will aim to be less disruptive than Apple's changes last year, which cost four top tech firms $278 billion.

But make no mistake: Google's privacy changes, like Apple's, could drastically reshape the world.

A fundamental shift for internet revenue strategy

When Apple altered its privacy policies, it fundamentally changed its iOS software on all iPhones, so that instead of requiring you to "opt-out" of advertisers' tracking behavior, users needed to "opt-in". It doesn't take a genius to guess which way the overwhelming majority of users went. Setting aside privacy issues, this had a colossal impact on big tech and internet firms that had based their entire revenue model on what has come to be known as targeted advertising campaigns.

As of writing, we don't have a rigid timeline for when Google's new policies will unfold, but present-day technologies should enjoy continued support for at least two additional years, the release said.

And earlier this month, Mark Zuckerberg's social media company Meta (formerly, Facebook) revealed that Apple's fundamental changes would cut $10 billion in advertising income. This, in turn, led to a substantial drop in Meta's stock price, raising market-wide concerns about whether other digital-facing companies with an advertising-centric business model.

"Today, we're announcing a multi-year initiative to build the Privacy Sandbox on Android, with the goal of introducing new, more private advertising solutions," wrote Vice President Anthony Chavez of Google's Android division, in the blog post. "Specifically, these solutions 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"

Google and Apple are leading a paradigm shift for tech

But despite acknowledging the toll new policies have had on big tech companies, in executing this new strategy, Google believes that "without first providing a privacy-preserving alternative path", there could be "worse outcomes for user privacy and developer businesses."

It's important to reflect the global role that Google and Apple play in the world, as the two biggest smartphone software providers. These two tech superpowers possess enormous power over the capabilities of apps that serve billions of privately owned devices. But, in ensuring that users have more control over who sees their data and when — which is something both politicians and regulators have also pushed for — Google and Apple are forcing many companies into a desperate hunt for ways to maintain revenue without the income from now-defunct advertising models.

Returning technology to the people - This shift is a symptom of a larger movement in big tech that's placing more control of emerging devices and technology in the hands of everyday consumers. Early in February, a long-awaited law was introduced into the House of Representatives that would allow consumers to repair their own expensive devices, in a major win for the right-to-repair movement, instead of buying a new one or paying the manufacturer to fix it. Combining this with Google and Apple both giving users control of their digital engagement almost makes it feel like the coming fourth industrial revolution won't be as much of an inevitable bottleneck as many thought. And it's precisely in returning ordinary citizens' power over the technology that's weaved into their personal and professional lives that's doing it.