Mobile is one of the fastest growing mediums of our time. It seems every day some new technology or new development is being brought to market. With so much going on in such a short time frame, key developments are sometimes glazed over and often not fully understood.
This is the case with Apple’s move to replace the use of the UDID for ad targeting with a new and improved ID created exclusively for adverting purposes – the launch of IDFA (or sometimes called IFA) with their release of IOS6.
This article is the first of a two-part series to provide mobile marketers with a little background on what exactly these IDs are and how they can be used for better mobile ad targeting. This first part will be diving into Apple’s IDFA and what marketers need to know to truly leverage this technology. Part two will then cover Android ID’s.
User Data In The Raw
It all started with the Unique Device IDentifier, or UDID, the 40-character alphanumeric string assigned to Apple devices — namely, the iPhone, iPad, and the iPod Touch. Originally, the UDID was intended as a sort of serial number for Apple devices. But, as the industry began to explode, app developers turned to the UDID to help track and target mobile users.
UDID enabled mobile ad services to track and compile information related to a particular device’s location, demographic information and user activity ranging from application use to m-commerce transactions — though the ID was not originally intended to be used in this way.
A December 2010 investigative piece by the Wall Street Journal blew the lid off mobile user tracking when they reported that not only was this information being gleaned from the user, but this data could be easily tied back to Personally Identifiable Information, commonly referred to in the industry as PII. Industry watchdogs and mobile users were up in arms, and it was clear changes were in order.
Taking The User Out Of The Equation
The WSJ report kicked up a storm of backlash and focused government attention on the issue of mobile user privacy. Since then, some major changes have been made by Apple to the privacy policies surrounding mobile user data and the availability of that information for publishers and advertisers.
The industry’s biggest leap toward mobile user data regulation came in March of 2012 when Apple began to deny developers access to UDIDs, forcing app creators to update their programs to leverage a new and far safer mobile data set called IDentifier For Advertisers, or IDFA, which was launched in conjunction with iOS6.
Unlike its predecessor, the IDFA is not permanently tied to a mobile device, as users can reset their IDFA at any time for added security or opt out of ad tracking altogether with a setting aptly named, “Limit Ad Tracking.” As a result, the IDFA can no longer be easily linked to specific devices/users.
This is similar to clearing cookies and changing privacy settings in your desktop browser. The data previously available with UDID is still available, but now in a “depersonalized” state. For iOS6 users that have allowed ad tracking, a flag is passed to the ad provider. This allows them to track a multitude of activity conducted within the device without risking a breach of personal privacy — something users, marketers and even industry watchdogs can all be happy with.
Upon releases, marketers were concerned the drastic measures would slice mobile user reach significantly as a big chunk of the market was still utilizing iOS 4 & 5. But, those fears were doused as adoption of iOS6 increased 22% in the three days post-launch, and as of last week, iOS 6 accounted for 92% of all iOS mobile operating systems in use.
Leveraging The Data Available — Responsibly
And now for the fun part. With the roll-out of IDFA, Apple has eliminated the user-specific identity from the mobile data, and allowed users the option to limit ad tracking in their device’s settings.
Now, mobile marketers are able to track essentially the same information available with UDID but without the breach in privacy. In fact, the IDFA benefits consumers by allowing publishers and mobile ad networks to provide value in the form of more relevant advertising based on past behaviors associated with the IDFA of the device. The ID also allows for better management of ad frequency, ensuring a particular device is only exposed to an ad a limited number of times.
With a renewed understanding of the current changes and the privacy-compliant information available to us, marketers can now move forward with solutions that work best for their campaigns and brand-specific privacy practices. We’re at a point where it’s safe to get excited about what lies ahead for mobile advertising. The data now available to us via IDFA is not only comparable to the data previously available, but it’s more ethical – leaving us to wonder… what was all the fuss about?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.