Android Privacy Sandbox

Comparing the emerging Google and Apple suites for privacy, marketing, and attribution as Google preps IP Protection

By John Koetsier October 27, 2023

Google is starting to quietly signal an upcoming Chrome feature called IP Protection that will act much like Apple’s Private Relay feature, which hides IP addresses to make tracking — and marketing measurement — more challenging. Add IP Protection to Google’s soon-to-come Privacy Sandbox technology, and you’ve got interesting parallels between Apple and Google privacy technology, plus some parallels — and gaps — between the two tech giants’ technologies for marketing and attribution.

Comparing Google’s and Apple’s privacy, marketing, attribution tech

From Google, this set of software and standards includes:

From Apple, this includes:

Clearly, we’re seeing the emergence of separate but often related suites of software, standards, frameworks, and requirements from the tech giants.  These tech giant initiatives are in 2 distinct but very related areas:

  1. Privacy enhancement
  2. Marketing measurement

The key reason for the connection: marketing measurement has typically required tracking, and that tracking has significantly impacted privacy. These tech giant initiatives are intended to rip out granular tracking as a vector for measurement and replace it with something very different: cloaked deterministic evaluation of advertising impact, with some noise sifted into the data, to provide analytics and preserve privacy.

Here’s what I’m seeing so far. (Let me know if I’m missing anything!)

google apple marketing measurement gatekeepers

* See the Privacy Sandbox website: “Privacy Sandbox also helps to limit other forms of tracking, like fingerprinting, by restricting the amount of information sites can access so that your information stays private, safe, and secure.”

These are complex beasts on both sides, with some parts baked in as OS-level components in iOS and Android, some grafted into the app submission and review process, and some that act more as platform-level directives than actual hard-coded realities. They are not monolithic projects or programs that are neatly subdivided, which makes them harder to fully grasp, and to fully understand the overall impacts on privacy as well as marketing measurement.

And, of course, they both deal with the world of mobile apps and the world of the open web, further complicating the overall landscape. 

Intelligent Tracking Prevention vs the new Google IP Protection

Apple Intelligent Tracking Prevention, first introduced in iOS 11 and MacOS High Sierra in 2017, fights cross-site tracking by blocking third-party cookies, quickly deleting many first-party cookies, and blurring device characteristics to make fingerprinting harder. In conjunction with Private Relay hiding your IP address and App Tracking Transparency for requiring permission for the IDFA on mobile, it’s a powerful tool for privacy, plus a challenge for marketing measurement.

Now there’s a similar technology coming from Google for the Chrome browser, increasing an interesting degree of similarity — and divergence — between the Apple and Google stacks for privacy, marketing, and measurement.

The new technology from Google has been signaled in a Google Groups post by a member of the Chromium team. Chromium is an open source browser engine that forms the foundation of Chrome itself, as well as any other Chrome-based browsers, like Microsoft Edge, the Brave browser, and Opera.

“IP Protection is a feature that sends third-party traffic for a set of domains through proxies for the purpose of protecting the user by masking their IP address from those domains,” writes Brianna Goldstein, a senior software engineer at Google.

It’ll be an opt-in feature that will roll out in phases, she says, and will be “just focused on the scripts and domains that are considered to be tracking users.”

Functionally, this will work very similar to Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Protection, Goldstein says. The experiment does not currently impact Android WebView, the technology that allows an Android app to display web content, and will be limited in the beginning to Google’s own domains. It could cause some security concerns, Bleeping Computer notes, because proxied traffic “may make it difficult for security and fraud protection services to block DDoS attacks or detect invalid traffic.”

Private Click Measurement and SKAN vs Privacy Sandbox everywhere

Despite the fact that Apple absolutely needs privacy to be its crucial calling card as it expands its mobile universe to an ever-more personal PC that you wear on your face with no fewer than 12 cameras on it and in it looking both at your world and your face — plus 6 microphones — the company understands that that advertising drives free apps and the free web.

And that requires measurement, because advertisers need validation that they are getting ROI.

Google, of course, as an ad network primarily — at least in terms of revenue — never needed to learn that lesson.

Private Click Measurement measures both web-to-web and mobile app-to-web ad clicks, providing an 8-bit identifier on the source for up to 256 simultaneous ad campaigns per website or app, and a 4-bit identifier on the conversion, enabling measurement of 16 different conversion events. There’s a built-in time delay of between 24 to 48 hours, similar to SKAdNetwork, and measurement postbacks for both advertiser and ad network are handled in-browser and on-device. 

Along with SKAdNetwork for mobile apps — which I won’t talk about here since we’ve covered it pretty exhaustively on the Singular blog — Apple is iterating through an increasingly richer advertising measurement framework. Yes, PCM pales in comparison to cookies (first or third-party) and SKAN pales in comparison to unfettered IDFA access, but that’s the point: they’re privacy-safe, and Apple will continue to add features over time.

On the other side of the fence, Privacy Sandbox on Web and Privacy Sandbox on Android are full-fledged initiatives to redefine the basics of how advertising works. Apple’s initiatives are more about mitigating adtech’s problematic capabilities; Google’s are about reinventing the world within which adtech exists. 

That’s why adtech experts say Privacy Sandbox will break more than Apple’s SKAN, but ultimately be less disruptive. 

Again, I won’t go into huge detail on Privacy Sandbox in this post: we’ve done it extensively already (focused, of course, on Android and not so much web, because mobile is where Singular primarily lives):

The one big obvious difference between the two suites in the marketing measurement area is that Google has provided capability for needed functionality in advertising and marketing: targeting and retargeting. It’s privacy-safe, which means it’s limited and restricted, but it’s there. Apple, on the other hand, while it will offer the ability for a retargeting signal in SKAN 5 so you know you’ve marketed to an existing user, player, or customer, does not offer any capability for targeting at scale in a privacy-safe way, or retargeting existing or former users.

That, perhaps, will wait until SKAN 6 or SKAN 7?

Google & Apple’s privacy/marketing/measurement suites: parallels and divergences

Ultimately when you boil down the privacy requirements of our evolving digital marketing ecosystem, you need a combination of items to limit tracking via cookies, identifiers, or device characteristics.

  1. Device ID obfuscation (IDFA, GAID)
  2. Device characteristics blurring (ITP, Privacy Sandbox)
  3. Device location masking (Private Relay, IP Protection)
  4. Privacy-safe marketing measurement (SKAdnetwork, Private Click Measurement, Privacy Sandbox)

As far as all of that goes, there are clear parallels between the Google and Apple technology platforms. Despite the fact that Apple banned third-party cookies much earlier (2020) and that ITP has been in-market for years, as has Private Relay, Google’s coming Privacy Sandbox along with IP Protection will achieve roughly the same results. (Note: likely those technologies will be applied with varying degrees of vigor: Google after all makes almost all of its revenue from advertising, whereas Apple makes almost all of its money from devices, but the broad strokes are similar.)

But there are clear divergences as well, like for the same reason just mentioned.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox is in essence a reinvention of the entire advertising model, as we’ve already said. It’s something that has been called a 360-degree advertising suite by InMobi’s Sergio Serra:

“Privacy Sandbox for Android is a complete advertising suite … it goes 360 degrees from targeting, retargeting, fingerprinting crackdown, and attribution.”

That’s clearly beyond the scope of Apple’s ATT and SKAdNetwork, which focus entirely on privacy and privacy-compliant marketing measurement, disregarding targeting or retargeting.

The emerging privacy-safe marketing infrastructure means we need hybrid measurement

Put it all together, and you have the emerging privacy-safe advertising infrastructure. 

It’s defined by:

  • Increasing respect for the individual and therefore, respect for the individual’s privacy
  • Decreasing data-gathering capabilities for the adtech ecosystem
  • Decreasing ability to track people from site to site and app to app
  • Increasing marketing measurement complexity
  • Growing reliance on semi-independent attribution frameworks and technologies (Privacy Sandbox, SKAN)

All of this is happening while we’re seeing increasing complexity in marketing mix, moving from just web or just mobile to web AND mobile AND CTV and outdoor AND custom SMS AND retail media AND influencer AND desktop AND console AND more and more channels and platforms … all of which is pumping the tires of the growing need for media mix modeling (MMM).

It’s also increasingly requiring what Singular calls hybrid measurement: marketing and advertising attribution based on a multiplicity of platform, cost, campaign, delivery, attribution, and first-party signals. Some of those are derived from deterministic sources such as SKAN or Privacy Sandbox, even if they are aggregated and noise has been added. Some are based on probabilistic technologies, like MMM itself. And others are based on deterministic signals that are the most accurate and detailed and precise of any that a marketer could hope for: your own first-party data.

All of this is a tremendous shift that is literally pulling the rug out from under the feet of marketers. But it’s both an industry and global legislative shift that won’t stop.

The one thing Singular can guarantee in all the change is that we will be providing everything you need for marketing measurement, optimization, and growth.

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