Google’s New Popup Will Further Weaken Facebook’s Advertisement Business

Anupam Chugh

Android 12’s privacy-focused permission deepens the woes of Facebook by vowing to end location-based ads.
Photo by Felix Hanspach on Unsplash

In the midst of Apple and Facebook’s public fallout over an iOS 14 opt-in ad tracking popup, a lot of eyes were on Google. After all, Android is still the most popular mobile operating system and its users would appreciate a similar set of privacy features.

Hence, when Google’s I/O 2021 event kickstarted in the week gone by, tech enthusiasts and privacy advocates waited with bated breath. To our amazement, we saw a slew of new privacy enhancements by Google this year. From a privacy dashboard to the camera, microphone visual indicators to transparent clipboard access — the list could go on and on.

However, by the end of the summit, it was obvious that Android 12 won’t be rolling out anything similar to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency framework.

In Google’s defense, this was expected. Like Facebook, they are an advertisement giant which makes tracking a crucial part of their business. Besides, they’re working on a cohort ad-tracking system of their own that hints at a cookie-less future.

Yet, Facebook cannot really celebrate the Android 12 update for long. Google has rolled out two different sets of privacy-focused popups on Android 12 which are about to make Facebook’s ongoing nightmare even worse.

Facebook Could Track Your Offline Activity Even When You’re Not Using Their App

No matter how big Facebook’s Ad Network plays a role in running personalized ads, it’s only a small data set in Facebook’s complex user profiling system.

Proximity marketing is another technique that Facebook leverages. Instead of tracking your in-app or web behavior, location-based targeting relies on your real footprints to serve ads. This means, if you’re out in a shopping mall, Facebook knows it. And so do the brand partners that run location-based ads.

It doesn’t take a Sherlock to deduce why we all receive so many ads from brick and mortar businesses around us. Or the numerous promos and discount coupons you’d notice in your newsfeed after visiting a clothing store.

Facebook uses location data to learn where you live and where you go. For some, this location-based targeting might be fine since it serves them relevant ads.

Still, being tracked for every offline move, even when you’re not using Facebook, and that too precisely is where most users would start feeling intrusive.

For instance, you may not want your peers to know you’re in a hospital. Or reveal your current romantic date’s information. Sardonically, Facebook already knows this and runs targeted campaigns on your and also your social connections.

Android 12 Prevents Bluetooth from Using Our Location Thereby Crippling Facebook’s Proximity Marketing

Now, coming to our Android smartphone, Google had already introduced background location permission in Android 10 to limit tracking. And with the new Android 12, they’ve added approximate location permission that gives users the choice to only share their broad location.

But, this isn’t a huge concern for Facebook. In fact, the company does let the users know how to turn off location services completely. What they don’t tell you is their data harvesting techniques outside location tracking.

As creepy as it sounds, Facebook could still fingerprint users using BlueTooth. Yes, BlueTooth access on Android would let the app owner track the physical location of other nearby devices — be it smartphones, wearables, or beacon devices.

Now, this isn’t just highly invasive but also insidious on Facebook’s part. By using nearby device locations, Facebook could easily figure if you’re single or the number of family members you have based on the age, gender, and other attributes of nearby smartphone owners using Facebook.

No user whose aware of this data collection secret would like the apps to know who they are hanging out with or the kind of devices they use.

All well that ends well, Android 12 gives the app developers a choice to explicitly deny location access by introducing new permission for Bluetooth scanning.

So, regardless of the outcome of the above popup, the user can breathe a sigh of relief as their location cannot be shared with nearby devices unless the app explicitly states it — which most users will unanimously deny.

But, what about the iPhone?

Facebook’s Ad Business Will Be Further Harmed as Apple Has Cracked Down on Tracking iPhones Already

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency manages which apps are able to view device advertising identifiers. But this only limits data tracking to some extent as it doesn’t block the uses of Bluetooth or WiFi.

Gladly though, Apple had already introduced Bluetooth scanning and location in background permission on iOS 13, the approximate location access on iOS 14, and more importantly — new local network permission that will only limit Facebook’s ad tracking system and embarrass them.

For history lovers, Facebook had once developed a beacon technology for their advertisement system. It ended up in a controversy as it informed your friends whenever you bought some brand’s product.

Since then, the social network giant has been using your smartphones as their de-facto beacon devices — by tracking your nearby users’ location online and offline.

However, with Google and Apple bolstering up the privacy in Android 12 and iOS 14, Facebook can no longer freely track your data as earlier. This will only debilitate their mobile advertisement business revenue since brands would now look for other avenues to sell ads.

Originally published on Big Tech

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Texas State

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