Tracking users in the cookie-less age

It is called privacy

Posted by Adello   on October 17, 2018 tagged with ADtech

Advertisers want to deliver to specific audiences to maximize the impact of their advertisement dollars. And if advertisers are interested in something, there is money to be made. Therefore, adtech businesses typically are willing to use every method at hand to track as many people as possible. This allows for profile building and retargeting. Some of us, who are around a bit longer in the ad-tech businesses, might remember the “good old” wild-west days of user tracking. A simple piece of JavaScript could easily access all kinds of identifiers, including the very identifier of your phone: the IMEI. Those identifiers allowed to recognize individual devices on all websites and apps, given that there is a piece of code running which extracts and sends this information. And there are surprisingly many parties, which are able to execute code on surprisingly many occasions. And each of these parties might hand this information over to other parties. But at some point, we (at least the sensible part of humanity) collectively realized, that giving everybody the possibility to track everybody else might not be the best idea. Especially if you cannot express your dissent with being tracked.

What followed was a long period of work-arounds: Cookies, user accounts, tracking scripts… Whole business models of multi-billion companies developed around having access to detailed user tracking and profiles. Basically, we are still in this period. You will find hundreds of different offerings around tracking people, deriving insights, and building audiences. And expressing dissent is still hard. Blocking JS-trackers, disabling cookies, contacting the companies directly… all those are ways to limit the tracking and profile building. None of them is comprehensive.

But there is change, slowly but steady. Not always in the right direction. However, sometimes there is positive change. This might be the right occasion, to talk about what we understand as positive: Obviously, you won’t hear a request from us to completely abolish user profile building. Also part of our business models relies on targeting specific audiences. And a lot of publishers rely on selling their advertisement space for premium dollars. Advertisement money makes the world go round in the current version of the internet. And as long as this is the case, there are a lot of companies with an eligible interest to make money out of their users. However, two eligible interests need to be combined: The publisher’s need to make money and their user’s interest not to be surveyed. And some entities start to weigh in on the interest of the users: The EU created GDPR. Apple implements Intelligent Tracking Prevention. We support those measures, since all of them try to prevent unbound tracking. We are convinced, there should be an easy and simple way to express dissent with being tracked. We are convinced, tracking should be based on a pseudonym and not on real names and addresses. Advertisers might have an eligible interest to know if you are interested in model trains, but why should they know where you live and what your name is?

And surprisingly, there is a method to perform this kind of profile building. It is there for quite some time now. Both Android and iOS have the built-in capability to generate and send a pseudonym as an identifier. In case of Google it is the Advertising ID. Apple’s devices generate the Identifier for Advertisers. The IDs are random pseudonyms. They are simply resettable by the user at any time. You can easily express dissent with tracking. And at least in case of Apple, they are cracking down on any other way of identifying users. Because of all these reasons, Adello sees Advertising IDs as the future way for audience building. The exception being big companies with user accounts like Google or Facebook. Their users are willingly agreeing to be tracked all over the web. The implications are a story of their own. The downside of the Advertiser IDs is the fact, that they can only be accessed from within apps and not websites. So there is still enough room for companies producing work-arounds and hard to opt-out tracking solutions… Adello is willing to take that hit and restricts itself to the usage of Advertiser IDs. Also, we fully respect the tracking opt-outs of users. On the one hand that means, that other companies might have bigger audiences based on cookies and tracking-scripts. But on the other hand, whenever there are news about cookie restrictions and tracking preventions, we see that as a confirmation of our position.

However, the grass is not always greener when using Advertiser IDs. Intermediate parties find ways to mess them up. Fraudsters find ways to fake them. So we also need to invest into sanitizing and validating them. But that is worth an article on its own.