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Android “Kitkat” Update – New Privacy Features

As the new Android OS 4.4 codenamed “KitKat” is now available for the latest Nexus phones (and will be available for Nexus 4, 7, 10 and Google Play editions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One in the coming weeks), it’s time to take a look at the system’s new privacy features.  Here is what we found:

New Privacy-friendly features

New “Advertising ID”

Prior to the KitKat update, ad networks and advertisers would track users through the device’s “Android ID.”  Typically, apps would pass this ID to ad networks, which would hash it and use it to track users as they interacted with various apps.

The Android ID could only be reset by wiping the entire device. Opting out required the user to visit the third-party ad network’s site and enter in his or her device’s (lengthy) ID.

KitKat contains a new identifier called the “Advertising ID.”  This new ID is subject to a new user setting can be used to opt-out of “behavioral advertising.”  According to Google, when a user activates this Opt-Out setting, the Advertising ID will only be used for contextual advertising, frequency capping, conversion tracking, reporting and security and fraud detection.

Users running Android 2.3 or later can access these new settings via the following steps: in Google Settings, select “Ads” and you will see your Advertising ID.  On this screen you can select the option to “Reset Advertising ID.”  Tap the box labeled “Opt Out of interest-based ads” to opt out.

Android Advertising ID

Google writes that beginning August 1st 2014, “all updates and new apps uploaded to the Play Store must use the advertising ID (when available on a device) in lieu of any other device identifiers for any advertising purposes.”  Opting out of interest based ads through the above method only affects apps – it does not affect tracking or targeting on the browser.

More details from Google’s terms:

Google has released technical details for developers implementing the Advertising ID. Greg Sterling has also written a helpful post for MarketingLand summarizing the changes and providing more detail.

Other Privacy Features

Toggle Location On and Off More Easily

Users will be able to adjust their location settings more conveniently via a new tile in Quick Settings.

Enhanced Caller ID

One new feature of Android 4.4 is that the phone app will match incoming phone calls against Google’s various databases in order to display an automatic caller ID. This feature already works for businesses that use Google Places, but the service will be expanded next year to people as well.  This means that if an incoming caller has verified his or her phone number on their Google Account (and allowed the discovery feature), their name and profile photo will show up on the receiving caller’s phone even if the incoming call is not an existing contact.  Note that users can disable this feature by visiting their Google Account Settings page.

Device management built-in

Lost devices can be found or wiped remotely with the Android Device Manager.

We’re excited to see these features implemented and will be watching for new privacy-related updates from Google as more features are rolled out.

Posted by on November 15, 2013.

Categories: Blog

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The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a Washington, DC based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices. The forum is led by Internet privacy experts Jules Polonetsky and Christopher Wolf and includes an advisory board comprised of leading figures from industry, academia, law and advocacy groups.more →