What’s New in Mobile Ad Tracking for App Publishers

Last year, Apple said it may restrict iPhone trackers used in iOS apps for ad targeting and tracking, namely unique device identifiers (UDIDs). In the August 2011 article, “Apple to Restrict iPhone Trackers Used in Ad Targeting” ClickZ examines this dilemma. Then TechCrunch subsequently reported in March 2012 that the App Store was rejecting apps by the App Store because they share UDIDs.

Eliminating access to UDID information has enormous impact on the industry as these are the common identifiers that app developers and networks use to tie user information together. For example, by collecting UDID on click and again on app installation, two disparate networks can trace the complete activity stream of a user. There were claims that the TechCrunch article is a false alarm but it caused developers and networks to seriously consider how they’ll address the eventual elimination of UDID information sharing.

Industry Response to Date

Key players in the industry are choosing to support a broader set of tracking identifiers including OpenUDID, a freely redistributable open source initiative, and encrypted MAC Addresses (SHA1 or MD5 hashed), a unique device identifier defined for hardware. This approach provides maximum compatibility with leading buyers and sellers of mobile advertising supporting strong mobile ad tracking across a broader reach.

Apple’s Response

Recently The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple plans to release a new way for mobile app developers to track who uses their software. The WSJ said the new tool apparently aims to better protect user privacy than existing approaches. At this point, Apple has not made any public announcements. VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar is predicting what the new tracking tool might look like.

  • Opt-in tracking + toggle switch: Giving users the option to toggle tracking off and on.
  • Stricter developer rules: Once rules are developed, enforcing the rules by rejecting apps and developers.
  • Per-app tracking: The ability to tweak tracking by individual app.

What About Android Apps?

Identifying users is not quite as complicated with Android apps. There are two types of user IDs:

  1. Android ID, a Google-developed Android device identifier defined by the OS. Google publishes Android, but its actual support varies by device manufacturer.
  2. Android Device ID, an Android device identifier used on phone devices.

Most ad buyers and sellers choose to collect both identifiers. That’s because Android ID can be used on Wi-Fi-only devices due to incorrect manufacturer implementation so it is not accurate for all devices whereas Android Device ID can be used accurately for all phone devices but is not available on Wi-Fi-only devices.

The saga continues as the industry searches for the acceptable identifier. Stay tuned for an Apple announcement in the near future.

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