Cross-Device Tracking Raises Privacy Concerns

October 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013, by Kerry Boehm
In our increasingly interconnected and technology-dependent world, the majority of the population routinely uses multiple technological devices in a given day — from a smartphone to a tablet to an actual computer. Have you ever noticed that the same ads seem to follow you from to device to device? Due to this advent of new technology and increased consumer reliance on their devices, companies and corporations have begun utilizing what is known as “cross-device tracking.” In short, cross-device tracking does exactly what it sounds like: it tracks consumers’ daily patterns across multiple devices and lumps them together to create a profile of a consumer. Smartphone, tablet, and computer use help to compile a complete picture of a given user’s routine and interests. Several cross-device tracking companies exist, often employing software engineers, to design programs to do just that. The most prominent of these firms includes “Drawbridge, founded by a former Google data scientist.”

In short, cross-device tracking does exactly what it sounds like: it tracks consumers’ daily patterns across multiple devices.

From a business perspective, this strategy exists as smart marketing. Once a customer searches or views something, a company can track that interest and reinforce its products through repeated advertising and sponsored links. If a company knows a consumer is in the market for a particular item, or searches for something online, it can specifically tailor and target its advertising. This, in turn, exposes the interested consumer to more of a bombardment in advertising or at least link recognition. Targeted advertising is nothing new, and these new information gathering techniques just pinpoint consumer behavior even more precisely.
From a consumer perspective, this new tracking mechanism seems daunting. The issue in this process is this: most users fail to realize that their personal information is being tracked at all. Unlike a traditional computer or laptop, smartphones cannot utilize cookie technology. Most Internet users are aware of cookies and their purpose, so many users regularly delete their cookies. As a result of this lack of knowledge, many Americans’ privacy is being infringed upon on a daily basis as they go about their normal routines. These tracking companies exist in an unregulated world and market, and the boundaries as to their use of consumers’ data remain unclear. In the meantime, users’ data is regularly collected by third-party groups, such as Drawbridge, without their permission without restrictions imposed by law. This issue begs the question: is this invasion of privacy illegal or just smart business maneuvering?
Recently, pressure has started to mount against the Federal Trade Commission to look into the topic further or issue some sort of regulation on cross-device tracking. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts recently issued a letter suggesting further investigation into the realities of this newfound technology. Whether or not the FTC will actually investigate or even issue any sort of regulation remains to be seen, but Senator Markey’s letter may prompt some sort of action. If nothing else, hopefully more consumers will take notice of this practice.