Web browser developer Mozilla has made it clear that at some point in the near future they will implement third party cookie blocking by default in Firefox – possibly as soon as Q3-2013. Third party cookies are those set by a different domain to the one that the user is visiting at the time and have a range of applications including analytics solutions. As an example, if the user visits www.coolshop.com, which uses an analytics package from hitstats.com, Firefox will by default block any cookies from hitstats.com.
This initiative by Mozilla will have a significant impact on advertisers and publishers, and as a result ad networks that to remain competitive must develop technology that provides an alternative tracking solution. Device tracking is one such approach.
Device tracking uses no cookies, no shared objects, no tagging and records no personally identifiable information (PII) of any kind. Device tracking stores no data on the user’s device and as a standalone tracking method, it is compliant with the EU’s ePrivacy Directive as well as being compatible with the overhaul in privacy regulations taking place in the United States.
So what is device tracking?
Conventional cookie technology works by storing information as a small text file in the user’s browser and indeed, most tracking mechanisms use some form of ‘tag’ placed on the user’s computer or device.
Third party cookie blocking is not the first or only challenge facing the affiliate marketing industry. With the rapid expansion of the mobile market and the increasing prevalence of privacy and security concerns among users, all conventional tagging technologies are facing serious challenges. Device tracking provides a more robust and acceptable tracking solution suitable for tracking sales across all browsers in the ever expanding mobile arena as well as traditional desktop and laptop usage.
In most cases device tracking augments existing tracking methods rather than replacing them. As a result, implementation for merchants is typically very easy – often no additional work is needed at all – and device tracking can be rolled out seamlessly.
Some other advertisers that use conditional firing of their tracking code may need to work with their tracking vendors to ensure the logic used is first party and not third. This is likely to be the case for advertisers who are on more than one affiliate network, those who are deduping against other channels, and those who are using some kind of container tag or tag management system.
How does it work?
Storing no data on the user’s machine, device tracking builds a unique device profile to identify an individual user (or more accurately, an individual device) and works on all machines that connect to the internet including smartphones, tablets and game consoles.
Device tracking analyses the user’s machine on a number of variables to compose a unique device ‘fingerprint’. There are over 100 potential points of analysis which can be used ranging from OS and browser, to plugins used, accepted browser language settings, time zone and timestamp on device.
As technology moves forward and user machine specifications change, these developments can be incorporated into the queried parameters, ensuring a truly future-proof tracking methodology.
Nobody yet knows exactly when Mozilla will implement third-party cookie blocking, but what is certain is that increasing privacy concerns are likely to see more restrictions on cookie tracking in the future. Device tracking is now a necessary part of any network’s toolkit.