The continued rise in time spent on mobile devices of all types has started to leave bigger and bigger gaps in the information coming back from digital campaigns. Understand tracking and how it works in mobile can be overwhelming, given how it’s constantly evolving and with companies like Apple regularly changing what they allow. The following list is aimed to help marketers quickly understand why it is difficult to accurately track customers when they are in a non-desktop environment.
1. A cookie is a text file placed on your computer from a website you visit. As it is a text file, it cannot carry viruses and cannot install malware.
2. This text file tells a browser if you have logged in or out and can help you make a purchase quickly on an e-commerce website without creating an account until the end. Cookies can also be used by advertisers to get an idea of what sites you have visited as well as what kind of content you clicked on to allow more relevant ads to be presented to you.
3. First-party cookies are cookies from websites you visit, for example ClickZ.com.
4. Third-party cookies are cookies from websites different to the ones you visit. For example, domains that provide advertising like youradvertisingpartner.com.
5. The default settings in the mobile Safari browser allow first-party cookies and do not allow third-party cookies. Whereas mobile browsers like Chrome and Opera allow first- and third-party cookies. These can be changed by users. More info here: http://www.iab.net/media/file/CookiesOnMobile101Final.pdf
6. Turning off, restarting a mobile device, or closing a browser from running in the background clears all cookies.
7. Mobile apps cannot share cookie data with each other (or with mobile browsers) as each app operates in its own private space or “sandbox” environment.
8. Cookies are unable to track users when they move between mobile apps and Web browsers, making conversion tracking difficult.
9. Alternatives to cookies are device IDs, such as Apple’s IDFA and Google’s Android ID, but these are intended to work only in mobile apps and cannot track the same user across apps and mobile Web browsers.
10. Device recognition is an upcoming alternative that creates device IDs based on a list of attributes of a device like device type, operating system, fonts, date and time settings, language settings, and more. Regular device updates are the Achilles’ heel of this alternative but it has a very high accuracy rate if you are tracking over a very short window.
11. Other alternatives include using a universal login like Facebook, Twitter, or Google but it does require users to log in, which may not be an option for tracking users that have not decided to buy.
12. Microsoft and Google are developing systems to bypass cookie tracking by using a unique identifier that monitors users across their apps and devices. More info here.
13. Facebook has rolled out features that allow site owners to retarget site or app visitors even if they are not fans on their desktops or mobile devices. More info here.