James Lamberti on replacing UDIDs with AdTruth's probabilistic universal ID technology
That's certainly the approach being taken by AdTruth, the mobile-focused division of online fraud detection technology outfit 41st Parameter.
Taking advantage of industry confusion about how to track and target mobile users following Apple's off-on deprecation of UDIDs, it's jumped into action to offer them its smarts.
It's broke. Fix it
Indeed, as already announced, AdTruth has been running a working group of 18 companies to consider how to deal with the situation.
"It's critical to involve the entire ecosystem, not take a piecemeal approach," explains James Lamberti, AdTruth's SVP and general manager.
"What the industry needs is a long term solution when it comes privacy. We deploy a universal ID but crucially, it's universality with strong privacy."
This has been reflected in the range of companies involved, including ad networks and exchanges, marketing agencies, content developers, demand-side platforms and analytics companies.
Publicly announced partners to-date are InMobi, King.com, MdotM, Mojiva, On Device Research, Razorfish, Smart AdServer, Somo Global and StrikeAd.
Of course, with UDIDs and MAC addresses still being used by many companies to track user activity, there's no need for anyone to immediately jump over to AdTruth's hardware fingerprinting system.
Lamberti says companies can integrate the code into their SDKs, running it in parallel with their existing set up in order to test it and compare its accuracy.
"We want to make it clear that we're not directly competing with technologies such as ODIN 1 or OpenUDID," he says.
This attitude is reflected in AdTruth's business model too, which allows companies to use the technology freely for a 60 to 90 day grace period. Then a usage-based fee kicks in, but only if using AdTruth increases sales.
"We're replacing something that's free. That's a challenge. But we really believe in this," Lamberti points out.
In terms of how it works, that's the science part.
The underlying technology - as used by airlines, banks and financial institutions to stop online fraud - is an intelligent hardware recognition system that uses a basket of attributes to identify a 'user', then assigning a universal hardware ID.
Obviously, in terms of personal privacy, this isn't a monolithic ID such as the UDID that Apple assigns to each piece of iOS hardware. Rather, the probabilistic approach used by 41st Parameter makes the best of bad situation, balancing the ability to track online activity quite accurately without identifying people.
Effectively, individuals are obscurated, while the device ID will change over time as people update their OS etc.
Good as it gets
AdTruth reckons its technology currently has around a 90 percent accuracy rate on iOS. It's higher on Android, and higher still on desktop.
Also important is the longevity of the IDs, which on mobile currently last for around 2- 3 weeks. Obviously, accuracy drops over time, but in terms of most mobile business applications, tracking usage over 48 hours is the crucial period.
One company happy to adopt it as part of its SDK is MdotM.
"We compared install attribution accuracy levels from multiple device tracking vendors over the last six months and found that AdTruth delivered the highest accuracy for tracking iOS installs," confirms CEO Sourabh Niyogi.
Do more, be more
This is just one element of the company's longterm goal, however. Lamberti says its technology will enable the industry to become more sophisticated.
"We can help out in terms of basic performance and frequency tracking, but we can do so much more than that," he says. "We need to make the experience for users better while extending monetisation options."
This is where the AdTruth working group will really come into play.
While it's initially focused on privacy concerns, other aspects include what AdTruth calls "operationalising an ID for all mobile advertising use cases" and improving the technology's accuracy and recognition longevity.
That's what Lamberti calls 'wave 1'.
"There will be wave 2, wave 3, wave 4..." he explains. "We hope to meet every six months or so, talking about new issues and also seeing new companies join."
It seems that this is only the start.