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New Ways to Track Mobile Users

October 25, 2013  - By
Companies like Drawbridge indentify a user's devices across platforms.

Companies like Drawbridge indentify a user’s devices across platforms.

In the location business, we used to talk about tracking — namely, vehicle tracking.  We stopped using the term as it sounded too close to Big Brotherism. Vehicle and employee tracking is much more prevalent today, but we have delicately renamed it “mobile resource management.”

Tracking is back in the news, and it is rightfully being called what it is, tracking. You may have seen the New York Times article about new ways people are being tracked via their mobile phones and other devices.

Tracking mobile phone behavior hasn’t been prevalent, because mobile apps don’t use cookies, the small files that can watch our behavior on our desktops and laptops. This has changed. Now Internet advertising companies like Drawbridge are using powerful algorithms to analyze anonymous browsing patterns on devices and look at the dates and times, location and websites visited, and user activities on sites. The companies can determine that a mobile phone, home computer, work computer and tablet belong to the same person.  The devices do not need to be connected for the match to be made. In a household full of people and devices, these companies can even distinguish among users.

This isn’t in its infancy. One company alone says it has matched 1.5 billion devices this way. The incentive of the industry is to arm advertisers with behavior knowledge to enable hyper-personalized ads on the device that makes the most sense. The ad may be delivered on one device based on a person’s activity on another device. For instance, Greg is looking at a website for basketball shoes at his computer at work. He goes home and gets an ad for those shoes on his tablet, and it maybe a hyper-local ad for a store where he often shops. The ad may come at a time that he is primed to shop, on the device he will likely be using then. Mobile advertisers that are  exploiting this data include Drawbridge, Flurry, Velti and SessionM. Companies that are advertising based on this mobile tracking data include Ford Motor, American Express, Fidelity, Expedia, Quiznos and Groupon.

As we know, phone data is not the sole interest of commercial companies. It is of interest to the government as well. This month, the National Security Agency (NSA) admitted that it was tracking the location of the U.S. population. Between 2010 and 2011, the NSA used cell towers to locate Americans. The NSA claims that it obtained the data, but didn’t use it.

What’s next? There is something left that mobile advertisers still haven’t figured out. They have no sure way to know the results of an ad placed on a mobile phone. Has the person viewed the ad and gone to the website on their computer, or walked into a store and placed an order?  It probably won’t be a mystery for long.

This article is tagged with , , , , and posted in Mobile, Opinions

About the Author: Janice Partyka

Janice Partyka is principal of JGP Services,, a consulting practice that helps companies with marketing strategy, including investigating new markets, ensuring product roadmaps match market needs, and creating marketing campaigns. Janice develops websites, social media, public relations and overall marketing communication. She also works as an expert witness for the mobile industry and conducts prior art searches for patent cases. Janice has served in leadership capacities in the wireless industry, leading marketing, business development, media and government relations, including serving as vice president of external affairs for TechnoCom Corporation. She briefed the Obama transition team on broadband issues. Janice was a twice-elected member of the board of directors of the E9-1-1 Institute, which supports the work of the U.S. Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus to ensure implementation of wireless E9-1-1, and she was telecom liaison to the Intelligent Transportation Society's World Congress. Janice is a frequent speaker at mobile and location industry events. Her webinars on mobile applications and technologies draw audiences from more than 40 countries. Janice Partyka is also the founder of, a web service that helps college students find the right major that will lead to a satisfying career. Contact: Janice Partyka at, Free subscriptions to Wireless LBS Insider are available at

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