Advertising ID – how Google tracks your Android device… and how opt out

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

February 3, 2014

USA Today reported last September that Google was planning to replace third party cookies with a technology that more would effectively track internet users across the web, known as Advertising ID (or AdID).

We have already discussed in our articles Supercookies, Flash cookies, Zombie cookies and things that go bump in the night and More things that go bump in the night: HTTP ETags, Web Storage, and ‘history stealing’ how commercial internet companies, particularly third party analytics and advertising domains, are using increasingly sneaky and sophisticated methods to evade public awareness of the dangers of HTTP cookies, so they can continue to uniquely identify and track our movements across the web. With the digital advertising industry worth an estimated $120 billion, it is therefore unsurprising that Google is also keen to get in on the act.

Nobody is quite sure how AdID will work, but during Google’s Q4 Earning Call last week, chief business officer Nikesh Arora confirmed that Google was working on something. When asked about ‘identity-based ad targeting in addition to or in lieu of cookie-based advertising’, he said,

‘There is a lot of stuff going on in terms of how do we continue to evolve this area of technology and make sure that we give the users more control and also make sure that users have security in terms of what data gets transferred for them right and increase the transparency. So, our teams are working on this. There are some early concepts … But I think it’s too early to talk about what those precise solutions are likely to be.’

What we do know is that all newer Android devices now have an ‘Advertising ID’ which allows the device to be uniquely identified and tracked. When combined with the fact that most Android users are permanently signed into Google services such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google+, and YouTube, it becomes clear that Google can access huge amounts of detailed information on users’ internet habit.

Advertising ID

Advertising ID is a replacement for Android ID, and works in a similar way to Apple’s IDFA as way to allow advertisers to track and identify users’ consumer interests, while providing savvy users the tools to opt out,

To give users better controls and to provide developers with a simple, standard system to continue to monetize their apps, we are replacing Android ID with an anonymous identifier for advertising purposes. This enables users to reset their identifier, or opt out of interest-based ads for Google Play apps.’

Advertising ID is available now (and has been pushed to most modern phones), but later this year developers will be required to incorporate it into their apps,

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 purpose’. The full terms of Google’s ad policy are available here.

Just to be clear, Advertising ID affects advertising in apps, not in your browser.

Changing your Advertising ID settings

1. If you run Android 2.3 or above, go to your Apps drawer and find ‘Google Settings’.


2. Select Ads.

adid 2

3. Tap ‘Reset advertising ID’ to get a new ID number , which will also delete any previous information stored,. Then check the ‘Opt out of interest-based ads’ checkbox –  this works much like the ‘Do not track’ option in your browser, except that Google requires advertisers to abide by the ‘request’.

adid 3

If you prefer, you can instead view and modify your current ad settings through web interface by clicking on ‘Ads Settings’.

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