Mobile Privacy Concerns Push Trial of UDID Tracking Alternatives

As privacy concerns abound in mobile and new potential rules loom, tracking users and their specific devices in a non-intrusive manner is becoming an increasingly delicate balance for agencies and advertisers.

Firms like Somo Global are using a device recognition technology from AdTruth to track audiences across mobile devices while taking into consideration privacy concerns that have unraveled other targeting mechanisms such as unique device identifiers (UDID).

AdTruth recently released DeviceInsight 4.0, featuring optimized device recognition and the ability for marketers to gain varying levels of accuracy depending on the length of their campaigns and specific objectives. Game developers hoping to show up in top ten lists in app stores, for example, might care less about accurately tracking individuals when their primary goal is to drive downloads. That equation flips when it comes time to convert those users into paying customers through relevant ads and in-app purchases.

Without uniquely identifying every device, AdTruth’s technology still helps agencies track devices and their respective users with some degree of probability.

DeviceInsight uses javascript to help customers collect non-personally identifiable information, and assigns more than 100 attributes to devices in an attempt to give each a unique ID. AdTruth doesn’t use tags, cookies or IP addresses, and it doesn’t store any of the information it collects (data is sent directly to its customers’ servers).

“We need to dispel the myth that tracking is bad and evil,” said Gareth Davies, commercial operations director at Somo Global, a mobile marketing agency with clients such as Disney, Microsoft, Samsung, Zynga, EA and Conde Nast.

UDIDs are unique alphanumeric strings associated with each iOS device, but Apple is moving toward shutting down access to UDIDs over rising privacy concerns including zero insight into what’s being tracked and no ability for users to opt out or shut off access to the UDID for tracking. Somo Global has been anticipating this shift for years now, particularly as it navigates evolving privacy directives in the European Union from its headquarters in London. 

Apple began warning developers against the use of UDIDs almost a year ago. Since March, the company has been rejecting apps from the App Store that still include UDID tracking in their code.

“It’s important that as technology evolves, consumer privacy is put first,” Davies said. “The mobile device is about as close to the consumer as you can ever get…. You’ve got to really respect the consumer in that process.”

Somo Global works with at least 180 mobile ad networks to purchase advertising spots and run campaigns for its clients across a full range of devices and channels. The agency launched its own mobile tracking product, Apptimiser, which uses AdTruth to track in-app activity and attribute the original ad or media source that drove each app download.

Because AdTruth’s technology relies on the browser, it can reach virtually any device with access to the Internet. But because its model is based on a level of probability built around attributes instead of a direct, unchangeable ID for each device, tracking specific users becomes very much a guessing game.

“It’s a probabilistic model,” with an 80 to 90 percent rate of probability that you’re following the same user, Davies said. Red Bull, Expedia and Kabam are a few of Somo’s clients that have integrated tracking into their campaigns using Apptimiser with AdTruth’s technology.

“Device recognition is crucial for tracking campaign performance and for attributing conversion events,” Davies said. "Effectively tying mobile convergence back to the source from an advertising perspective is the most logical use case for us.“

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