Better Mobile Measurement = Perfecting Tracking and Privacy

By Jennifer Okula: VP, Data Innovation of Safecount

Mobile measurement may mean different things to different people: mobile site or application analytics, post-view behaviors, conversions, or branding ad effectiveness just to name a few things.  There is no question that marketers want to measure their investments in mobile. eMarketer estimates spending on US mobile ads reached just $743.1 million in 2010. This year, mobile advertising spending in the US is expected to grow to $1.1 billion! Marketers would be foolish to continue spending without accurate measurement solutions.

Enter the complex world of tracking mobile advertising. Tracking online advertising including unique exposure to ads can be accomplished using cookies. However, there are countless mobile devices and browsers (along with different carriers), which may not support cookies, enable cookies, or persistently keep cookies. This poses a major challenge to the industry on accurate measurement, in particular on anonymously identifying unique devices.  Therefore, following a device through to a post-view behavior or identifying ad exposures that occurred among a survey sample is hard for marketers and their partners to do.

There are a number of mobile companies that claim to have their own unique id or "mobile cookie" technology.  Some of these companies use standard mobile browser cookies, HTML5 technology, data from http headers, mobile operator data, or a combination of these pieces of information to create a unique id for each device. Other companies may be able to use actual device ids which they turn into hashed or encrypted ids for use with partners. The ways in which these techniques are used vary, the accuracy of these techniques vary,  and privacy policies and opt-out solutions also may vary.  The point here is that there is not yet any consistency or standardization in mobile ad tracking.

Similarly on the the mobile ad serving front, a lot of  fragmentation also still exists. Third party ad serving is not prevalent and many mobile publishers use any number of (or even multiple) ad servers from DFP to AdMarvel to Ringleader Digital to proprietary solutions. This adds to the complexity of tracking things consistently and many of these ad servers aren't yet uniquely tracking ad exposures.

One thing that the industry needs to be very vigilant about in this process is privacy. A recent study by TRUSTe found that nearly three-quarters of US smartphone owners indicated that they did not like to be tracked by advertisers on their mobile phones. Phones are a very personal device so extra caution needs to be taken in how data is collected and used.  We need to educate consumers about tracking and be as transparent as possible with them to get this right.

In my opinion, the mobile industry and all parties in the ecosystem (advertisers, agencies, publishers, technology, and measurement companies) need to work together to decide on or develop the right tracking and ad serving solutions and standardize these practices to move us all forward. We also need to put the right privacy policies and education in place and be very open and transparent about our practices. I challenge us all to be willing to work closely together on this and make the investments necessary to get the technology and privacy right.

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