Cross Device Tracking: Privacy Concerns?

Cross device tracking is a technology that enables marketers to identify users across multiple devices. As mobile users increase rapidly, this is quite an interesting technology to use and since we use at least two devices everyday, the use of cookies is outdated since it cannot be used cross deviced. Thus, the goal of cross device tracking is that it is able to recognize that whoever used this smartphone and later this computer is one and the same person.

For marketers it is useful to know this information, as they are able to attribute the value of their campaigns across different devices/channels. In order to know this information, you need to have access to certain data of course, and this is where privacy concerns come in.

There are different methods when it comes to cross device tracking. One of them is the deterministic approach. It relies on personally identifiable information. This is where users have to sign in into a platform like Google and Facebook, who have huge user bases. As long as the user stays logged in, they can track you and target you on multiple devices.

The other one, a less simpler method, is the probabilistic tracking method, which collects information like operating system, browser cookies, webpage visit and mobile device IDs to create a digital fingerprint which is then linked to a user’s device. Through algorithms and (statistical) analyses, they are able to create a (most likely) match between devices, which roughly said can lead to concluding that this smartphone and this tablet most likely belong to the same person.

The probabilistic method is invisible to consumers and they cannot control it, like they could with cookies. The marketing industry defends itself by saying it does not hold any personal data as they do not know any names or email addresses. All they have are those device profiles. It is not being used to identify an individual.


Personally, regardless of what information you collect from someone, an email address or a device type, I think it should still be viewed as personal data. A smartphone can also be considered as quite something personal nowadays. The Federal Trade Commission says cross device tracking is a sign of a post-cookie world and is even holding a workshop this November to explore the privacy issues and security risks.

First of all, I do understand the FTC and others, are concerned about privacy and they try to ensure that consumer’s privacy maintains protected. Privacy is a hot topic, it always will be. I also understand that there are people who are simply opposed to entities tracking them. But regardless of understanding their point of view, I personally don’t really see a (privacy) problem. Or maybe it is because I used to be an online marketer myself and I understand the value of this type of collected information and the insights it can provide marketers.

Besides that, we as consumers also benefit from cross device tracking, because things get more convenient, e.g. shopping on your smartphone first but then being able to finish the purchase on your computer at home. And for that, you have to give up some privacy. We live in a world where (online) privacy nowadays is hard to fully maintain. A possible solution is opting-out, or perhaps informing consumers the same way they are informed about cookie placements. But how will the transparency regarding data collection work out in the end? Any thoughts on this matter or the solution for it? Or perhaps you would like to share how you feel about these privacy concerns? 🙂

Linda Tram – 355313kt



2 responses to “Cross Device Tracking: Privacy Concerns?”

  1. gabriellapimpao says :

    I agree that sometime providing a bit more data can facilitate your life a lot and make online experiences much more pleasant; to mention just one example Google Nows notifications about rain or other extraordinary weather conditions or unusual traffic on your rout to work or the airport. And until our data is really being used to create more convenient experiences and more customized products for us (and with that of course create higher profit for many companies) things are still okay.
    But I believe there are two important things to be looking out for:
    1) Ironically apps that claim to give more privacy to users (like Snapchat for example) because in these platforms people share more and more openly as the promise is this data won’t get to the hands of unauthorized people. And yet sometimes super sensitive data leaks out – let’s just think back to the very recent Ashley Madison scandal.
    2) The very new wearables, because they turn the game into a completely new dimension. A few years ago companies could only access our data when we were on a computer, than with the smartphones they are able to track us almost all day but with the wearables there is much more potential trackable information than “just” users location – think of health and fitness apps that can track your heartbeat, blood pressure etc.
    But although the amount of data that wearable technology can collect about us can be concerning this could also empower a huge improvement in user data handling and privacy.


  2. 342947db says :

    When it comes to privacy concerns I am always in two minds. First of all, I agree with you that both online marketers and consumers can benefit from cross device tracking. Furthermore, in general I believe that in this new era of IT it is wonderful to know that technology could actually work for people and not against people, for instance, when you look at the bigger picture: the internet of things. Where not only smart devices like laptops, smart phones and tables communicate with each other, but also ordinary household gadgets like refrigerators, washing machines, thermostat, etc. In essence, the house can wake you up in the mornings by brewing coffee, turning on the radio, telling you the weather forecast and turning on the heat in your car in the winter.

    I also agree, that we live in a world where online privacy is hard to fully maintain. As long as our data is being used for purposes like providing insights to marketers, creating convenient experiences for consumers and other value adding activities I believe there is no problem.

    However, cross device tracking, smart home device technologies and wearables (as earlier mentioned by gabriellapimpao) have the ability to devour a lot of data and information about a user including e.g. personal schedules, shopping habits, medicine intake schedules, blood pressure and even location of the user at any given time. If these data fall into the wrong hands great harm and damage can be done to people. Think not only about cyber crime and identity theft, but also about insurance companies and banks that my want to differentiate prices based on acquired personal data. What for instance if an insurance company wants to charge you doubled fees based upon health data obtained from your fitness tracker?

    In my opinion, it is no problem if companies hold and use any personal data as long as this data is not being used to identify an individual.



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