Feb 3rd 2022

Ads Personalization on Android: What Marketers Need to Know

New Android privacy settings mean no more unique advertising IDs — here’s what that means for ads personalization.

Android users have long been able to tweak the ad-related privacy settings on their phones. But the rollout of Android 12 (aka Snow Cone) has taken it to a new level, potentially blocking developers from using unique IDs, regardless of the circumstances. Here’s a rundown of what’s new, what’s changed, and what’s still allowed when it comes to ads personalization.

Jump to a section…

What has changed?
Resetting versus obscuring the advertising ID
How does this affect ads personalization?
How many people use Android 12?
What about Apple?

What has changed?

Google explained in June 2021 that Android 12 would have a more robust system for users to opt out of being tracked by ads. First mentioned in a support document, Google stated “starting in late 2021, when a user opts out of interest-based advertising or ads personalization, the advertising identifier will not be available. You will receive a string of zeros in place of the identifier.”

Android users (or people using Google products on any platform) have long been able to manage some level of de-personalization of their ads, opting out of sending the device’s unique ID to developers. However, in this previous iteration, the advertising ID could still be used for some non-advertising purposes, such as fraud prevention, or internal analytics. With the new Android 12 opt-out, the ID string will be totally replaced with zeroes, completely blocking any useful information.

Android 12 also has a new Privacy Dashboard, which lets users see which apps are accessing features like camera, microphone, contacts, files, and their location. Location data control is now more granular than before. The phone’s owner can decide to allow locations only when the app is in the foreground, or also when it’s in the background; to allow for the location to be shared just this once or always; or, new in Android 12, what’s called “approximate location”. This shares a user’s location down to an area of a city block or two—but not down to the street number. That’s close enough for them to see an ad for a local restaurant, but not to give them directions to it.

Resetting versus obscuring the advertising ID

Android users had previously been limited to resetting their advertising ID at will, functionally clearing any sort of user profile based on their browsing and activities. This option remains alongside the ability to delete and obscure the advertising ID. A reset ID still allows systems to track users, but treats them as an entirely new entity with each reset, removing their data trail.

In Android 12, users can either “reset advertising ID” or “delete advertising ID”. Now they can allow for their behavior to be tracked, to be tracked from a fresh blank ID, or have the identifier totally obscured.

How does this affect ads personalization?

Not only will an individual developer not be able to follow a user’s browsing and use habits, but that data can no longer be purchased from a third party — which limits how personalized the targeting can get.

For most developers, the way forward will be in the form of contextual advertising. For web content, that means ads that can be smartly targeted towards on-page content, based on whatever the user is interacting with. For in-app advertising, contextual advertising can instead come from other identifiers — such as the type of device being used, game/app genre, or selected language.

For developers that had previously used advertising ID for tools like fraud prevention, Android has added a privacy-friendly tool called “app set ID”, which allows a unique identifier for use across multiple apps from a single developer. However, Google cautions “you cannot use app set ID for ads personalization or ads measurement” and notes that app set ID “will also automatically reset if all the developers’ apps on the device are uninstalled or none of the apps have accessed the ID in 13 months.”

How many people use Android 12?

Android 12 rolled out to wide release in October 2021, and due to the distributed nature of Android hardware, wasn’t available universally at launch. Google only infrequently announces its distribution numbers, most recently November 2021 — and unsurprisingly one month out from launch, Android 12 didn’t make the analysis. But at that point, only approximately 25% of users were on Android 11, an OS that was already two years old. Third-party tracker AppBrain has Android 11 at around one-third of users but doesn’t currently show Android 12, as of mid-January 2022. So it’s reasonably safe to assume a minority of people with Android phones have not only updated to Android 12 but also found the setting to turn off the options for ads personalization.

What about Apple?

Apple made a big push towards user privacy with iOS 14, predating Android 12 by more than a year. While many of the features are arguably fairly similar, iOS’ Ad Tracking Transparency requires apps to ask a user’s permission before tracking them — making it opt-in rather than opt-out, and leading towards a substantial number of users deciding to not allow advertisers to follow them. For more on how advertisers can function within the strictures of iOS 14, read The Complete Guide to iOS 14+ User Privacy and Ad Targeting in the Post-IDFA World.

As Android 12 slowly spreads to more users and the general public mood leans increasingly to protecting their digital privacy, it seems inevitable an increasing number of Android users will opt to keep their information private. Vungle’s expertise with contextual advertising means reliable outcomes, regardless of privacy settings. Want to know more? Get in touch! Our mobile ad experts are standing by.

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