Brands and agencies will have to design a workaround when it comes to building a profile on consumers using Apple mobile devices. In a recent update to Apple's iOS 5 documentation, the company notes a change in policy for unique device identifier, or UDID, for iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads.
The change prohibits the ability to link the actions taken by more than one device to a unique identifier. The singular 160-bit number gathers several hardware characteristics about the device and how it is used.
Apple began notifying developers that it plans to phase out the identifier, and developers will have to create their own, according to Lawrence Johnson, technology director for Ink, an advertising agency in Irvine, Calif. The UDID allows advertisers to track many things a person might do on an Apple mobile device.
Ad networks and game networks rely on the UDID to identify and target ads to users. Not having that identifier restricts brands, developers and ad networks from tracking the same person across multiple applications and creating a consumer profile.
For instance, the consumer might use an application similar to Yelp to find restaurants, and another that enables them to track points for a Weight Watchers program. Pulling the information together would allow the advertiser to draw a picture of the consumer without their consent.
Ink doesn't use the UDID in application development, according to Johnson. "Individual apps are still quite capable of tracking within that one application, because the technology can set its own identifier," he said.
While one application will track clicks and conversions, it will not link across other applications and clicks the consumer might carry out on their Apple device. That means app developers or brands will not have an option to create a consumer profile of the user to target ads.
This is equivalent to putting a cookie in someone's Web browser, which over time allows the brand to identify returning visitors.
Apple may phase out the ability for developers to access UDID data, as it attempts to protect consumer privacy and the company from more lawsuits. Simon Buckingham, founder at Appitalism, a mobile app developer, said Apple is only a small part of the mobile landscape today.
Buckingham admits the move isn't in Apple's best interests to shut off the tap; other operating systems like Android, which can support a mobile advertising campaign, continue to gain steam. "Apple is no longer the only mobile platform," he said.
Forrester research analyst Peter Sheldon estimates 56 of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. have developed an Android, iPad, or iPhone mCommerce application. A study conducted earlier this year suggests that consumers shop more often on an iPhone. In fact, 24% said they shopped from an iPhone in the past three months, compared with 21% of Android users, and 6% of BlackBerry.