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Google to overhaul ad tracking system on Android devices

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Google announced plans to limit ad tracking on its Android operating system running on billions of devices, a sensitive privacy issue that rival Apple has already moved to address on its iPhones.

Tech giants are under growing pressure to better balance privacy and ad-targetting, as users complain and regulators threaten tougher rules – but the companies themselves try to maintain access to the precious data helping them earn billions in ad revenue.

Apple has about 50 per cent of the United States (US) smartphone market while Google’s Android software is used on roughly 85 per cent of smartphones globally.

Any changes to Android could therefore impact the data from billions of users.

At present, the Internet search giant assigns an identity to Android-powered devices, which enables advertisers to have a profile of people’s online habits and thus send them ads they might be interested in.

“Our goal… is to develop effective and privacy enhancing advertising solutions, where users know their information is protected, and developers and businesses have the tools to succeed on mobile,” Google said in a statement.

For its part, Apple announced last year that users of its one billion iPhones in circulation can decide whether to allow their online activity to be tracked for the purpose of targetting ads.

It was a change which Apple said shows its focus is on privacy, but that critics noted does not prevent the company itself from tracking its users.

Apple’s tweak has sent ripples through the tech world, with Facebook parent Meta saying it expects that policy to cost the social media giant USD10 billion in lost revenue this year.

A woman walks past a Google logo in Shanghai. PHOTO: AP