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Cross Device Tracking – how to keep tabs on your visitors.

How many devices do you use to access the Internet throughout the day?

As mobile devices start to take over from desktop devices in accessing the Internet, more and more people are using multiple devices to research, shop, socialise and communicate online. From checking Facebook pages on a smartphone on the train journey to work to shopping online on a desktop in the lunch hour to (probably!) playing Candy Crush on a mobile device on the commute home to reading the latest news on a tablet device in front of the TV. Not only are people using multiple devices throughout their average day but they are also accessing the Internet through various IP addresses in different locations.

We can no longer treat a ‘unique user’ tracked through an adserver or analytics package as an individual person – this ‘unique user’ is very likely to have been tracked multiple times through not only different devices but also from the same device if they are using multiple browsers or deleting their cookie information.

Tracking online activity has long been (& is still) limited to a cookie being dropped onto a user’s device; something which is becoming harder to do as browsers start to switch off certain cookie collection as a default. This means that the same person using their mobile phone to check the airline flight times and then their laptop to actually book an airline ticket is seen as completely separate customers.

The holy grail of any tracking solution has always been to track the actual customer rather than the device they are using and with Google’s new Enhanced Campaign set up and Facebook’s purchase of Atlas this certainly seems to be an important agenda for these online businesses. The question is – how are they going to achieve this?
The simple answer is that they are relying on people to be logged into their various services across multiple sites & applications in order to track a single user’s activity. The downside of this is that many users now have different log-ins for multiple accounts (eg Google log in, Facebook log in, Microsoft Live log in, etc). This means that tracking people through their site log-ins will still not provide a true reflection of ‘individual’ users and overlap is likely.

Sites are encouraging more and more people to have one log in for everything but until competing businesses are willing to share user access across their sites / products with one universal log in then this form of individual tracking is still going to be an impossibility. We are still some way from the Minority Report style of customer tracking and interaction but simpler solutions are probably not far away – as seen in the interesting article in Wired recently.

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