What Is Google’s New Privacy Sandbox for Android and How Can You Join the Beta?

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To keep churning out the things we want and need, businesses and advertisers need to know what we like and dislike. Most feel it shouldn’t be at the expense of our privacy. Google hopes to satisfy both worlds with Privacy Sandbox, a new feature that’s available in beta on Android as of February 2023.


What Is Privacy Sandbox?

Privacy Sandbox is Google’s attempt to transition away from traditional cookie tracking on the web. But Privacy Sandbox isn’t exactly new. It has been around on Google Chrome since 2021. Maybe you have experience using Privacy Sandbox to protect your privacy in Chrome and wish that it would expand to other platforms. If so, a toast! The same experience is coming to Android.

For those unfamiliar, Privacy Sandbox aims to bridge the gap between properly protecting user privacy and giving businesses the necessary data and tools needed to continue effectively targeting their ads. The secret sauce making it all possible is Google’s new APIs.

The Privacy Sandbox logo

The roles of these APIs differ. For example, one API ensures identifiers do not follow and track your web and app activities, which sounds great for privacy. Another is called Topics API. If all APIs are sauces, then Topics API is the premium bolder sauce you get with an upgraded meal.

Engadget reports that Topics API can analyze a list of your preferred interests that’s built up based on how you use an app, websites, etc. Then, Topics API compares its findings to data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Google itself, to which ads are appropriately targeted.

The February 2023 post detailing the Privacy Sandbox beta on Android in The Keyword says nothing about if the information accrued from cross-checking user activity against these databases will be anonymous once shared with advertisers and businesses. But it’s easy to see how Google could keep this information anonymous.

Privacy Sandbox will also give you the option to allow or block the interests that Google automatically assigns to you. This is a bigger deal than it may seem. Effectively, you have a seat at the proverbial table with Google and the advertisers targeting you.

privacy sandbox android
Image Credit: The Keyword

The option tends to make ads suck less. You are also helping businesses and advertisers be more accurate with their targeting. Okay, maybe that’s not such a good thing.

Need a silver lining? At least you get some transparency into the “advertising profile” that businesses and advertisers are using to sell to you. Whether it’s just a small crumb of the whole pie though is another conversation entirely.

Privacy Sandbox beta participants can allow and block interests at will in their Privacy Sandbox settings. At least, that’s what the screenshots in The Keyword’s post suggest.

As with all beta programs, there is no guarantee that a feature will stick around once it officially launches. But Topics API seems like a one-two punch necessary to make Google’s crazy Privacy Sandbox experiment work. We expect to see this feature in Privacy Sandbox’s final build.

Can You Join the Privacy Sandbox Beta on Android?

If you are keen on joining the Privacy Sandbox beta on Android, there’s only one thing that you can do. Upgrade your device to Android 13. Only Android 13 devices will be chosen for the beta program, and even then, only a small percentage of devices running Android 13 will be chosen.

android 13 logo

Google hasn’t included any information about things you can do to increase the odds of getting chosen to be part of the beta program. It’s not like past Android beta programs where pressing an “opt in” button lets you join the program. Google decides which devices get to join the Privacy Sandbox beta on Android.

If you happen to be one of the lucky few chosen to join the Privacy Sandbox beta, you will receive a notification on your Android device. For the rest, sit back and wait patiently for news of a stable release.

Privacy Sandbox Aims to Keep Advertisers Happy and Your Info Private

Protecting user privacy and keeping businesses and advertisers happy (and vice-versa) is a difficult tightrope to walk. In an era where privacy concerns are at an all-time high, minimizing third-party cookies to increase user security has never been more important.

Does Google have the answer, or will Privacy Sandbox end up in the landfill of abandoned Google projects? We’ll have to wait and see.

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