RIP, UDID: Is IDFA the Long-Term Solution?

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ADOTAS — As of today, Apple will no longer be accepting new apps, or updates of apps, that use the UDID, or Unique Device Identifier, of an iOS device to collect user information for targeted advertising.

The change was officially announced by Apple on its Developers page on March 21 with the integration of iOS 6, but the company has been warning developers since the release of iOS 6 in October to not use the UDID and has even already been rejecting some apps that intended to utilize it since May of last year.

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The center of the issue with the use of UDID for collecting user information is its lack of comprehensive privacy or control for the user, which was clearly exemplified through the leaking of one million UDIDs after the Anonymous offshoot group, AntiSec, hacked digital publishing company BlueToad’s servers.

Many on the advertising side of the mobile industry believe Apple’s switch to IDFA, or Identifier for Advertising, is a move in the right direction.

“In essence, we think it’s going to be very positive,” said Gregory Kennedy, VP of Marketing at TapSense. “We think IDFA is an excellent solution and are really glad Apple went ahead and put something like that in place. It gives consumers the ability to opt out of tracking, which is something that isn’t available for PC advertising, which entails a much more complicated process than just the push of a switch.”

Alex Franke, COO and co-founder of Trademob, feels similarly about the implementation of the IDFA.

“From a Europe perspective, it’s totally positive to move away from the UDID,” Franke said. “At Trademob, our tracking has never been 100% reliable on UDID and was only a part of a number of tracking mechanisms we use. We’ve already integrated the IDFA very shortly after its introduction last year, and for us it has been very positive.”

Kennedy believes that the continued growth of the iOS device market combined with the enhanced privacy standard of the IDFA will boost confidence and returns in the mobile ad sector of the industry.

“The great thing about the IDFA is that now people or apps that were reluctant to use methods such as conversion tracking now can have a larger comfort with this type of technology, so using conversion tracking you’re going to get better returns on ROI and your advertising impact and people will be able to better see how things are going,” Kennedy said.

With over 500 million iOS devices sold worldwide combined with this added user privacy measure, all signs may point to long-term profit, but there are still those in the industry that believe this is only a short-term fix.

“I think the reality is that this is what I would look at like a band-aid, not necessarily a long-term solution,” said James Lamberti, Vice President and General Manager at AdTruth. “The fact that we have evolved to a more privacy friendly identifier [in iOS] doesn’t take away from two important issues with how this is happening. This is only working or available in app, so it’s not like the mobile advertising world has any fundamental audience identification technology in mobile web. And second, I still think there is a lot of concerns with the deterministic identifier in general for the long-term privacy discussion happening.”

Lamberti said that there may be one school of thought that the new identifiers completely solve the problem forever and it’s going to “light up” iOS, which could help he says, but there is still no clear view of audience across mobile web and app, even in iOS, or Android for that matter which shares a considerable aspect of the market as well.

Some older iOS devices that are in use don’t have IDFA either, so advertisers are completely blind on those devices that run on those devices.

Lamberti believes that companies relying mainly on IDFA are likely asking for trouble.

“Companies that go the route of seriously relying on IDFA, even after the whole situtation with the UDID, exposes a big problem for the industry that now exists, which is that a lot of these businesses are built entirely on an identification layer they have zero control over,” he said. “That is a very risky position to put yourself in [for Android and iOS] and that’s never in the history of media been the case.”

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