What is Device ID and how can it benefit your business?


9/28/2020 5:00 PM

Performance Device Detection Location User Agent Device Data

These unique identifiers can supercharge your web offering while respecting peoples’ privacy

What is device ID

The term ‘device ID’ - short for ‘device identification’ - can be confusing. It tends to mean different things to different people depending on their industry.

Generally, though, device ID refers to a number of unique identifiers, including IMEI, TAC, Mac addresses, advertising ID, IDFA, AAID and cookie ID.

It’s most commonly used to refer to the model of a device - such as “John’s iPhone”, or “Bob’s Pixel 3 XL”. On Apple’s iOS devices, this is referred to as the UDID (Unique Device Identifier), a pseudo-anonymous ID. On devices released before September 2018, it takes the form of a 40-character alphanumeric identification string.

On Android, which commands 80% of the global smartphone market, device IDs are generated when a handset is first booted and erased when a factory reset is performed. This also takes the form of a unique alpha-numeric string, though on Android this is only 16-characters.

Hardware-based and software-based device IDs

It’s easy enough for a consumer to find their device IDs, as this is done either via iTunes or an app from Google Play. However, both Apple and Google have made these hardware-based identifiers - also known as “persistent” device IDs - more difficult for businesses to access.

Apple started rejecting apps that accessed UDIDs in 2012. This came as a result of government pressure, which stemmed from the fact that hardware-based IDs are uniquely associated with just one device and fail to offer an opt-out feature.

Unsurprisingly, Google followed suit shortly after.

Both firms replaced these hardware-based IDs with software-based advertising IDs that can be disabled or reset. Apple’s is known as IDFA (Identifier for Advertising), and Google’s is known as AAID (Android Advertising ID).

However, with the introduction of iOS 14, Apple appear intent to make IDFA opt-in only, which looks set to create a huge challenge for mobile marketers, advertisers and app publishers. Google, as of yet, hasn’t followed suit, but the company will be under pressure to do something similar with Android as the data privacy debate becomes noisier.

Device ID in business

While there are privacy concerns surrounding the use of unique identifiers, Device IDs are useful across a number of ecosystems.

App developers, for example, can use device IDs to provide users with a more personal and optimized experience. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) use identifiers - typically the Type-Allocation Code (TAC) - to make more informed business decisions relating to network optimizations.

Web developers, particularly those who don’t offer apps, typically obtain device information via the User-Agent string. This is a string of characters that contains information about a device, such as the model of the device, operating system, and the browser.

With access to this information, developers can tailor content to offer the best experience and performance possible.

What we do

The aforementioned benefits of Device ID have typically been fragmented. This has limited the insights that businesses are able to access and has forced developers to source information from different providers, often through multiple requests with varying speed and reliability.

We can help with that. At 51Degrees, we used advanced device detection and geolocation to build a non-personal, high-fidelity picture of requests and installations. This means you can access real-time data such as device model, screen size, graphics capability, CPU performance, memory, and nearest town or city to deliver top-notch customer experiences that will ensure your users keep coming back.

Of course, privacy is at the heart of everything we do. Everything we do is GDPR compliant.

Many are becoming more vocal about the potential “privacy harms” associated with device ID and online fingerprinting. But these critics fail to mention the endless ways these tools help industries - from AdTech, E-Commerce, Publishers, CMS - to deliver their web content to the user's device in the most optimized form.

These same critics also fail to take heed of the risks posed by existing web standards, such as first-party cookies or user authentication mechanisms.

Guidance that calls for an end to browser fingerprinting could have grave consequences - and we don’t just mean slower, crappier websites. It could also lead to an increase in fraud on the open web, which would likely drive marketers further towards the walled gardens of dominant market players.

This scenario was explored by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in July. It advised that the UK needs tougher rules to curb the dominance of Google and Facebook - including powers to ultimately break them up. You can read our response to the CMA’s report here.

Competition vs Privacy

Our CEO and founder, James Rosewell, wrote about the competition issues associated with a debate singularly focused on privacy. Using the parallels of land enclosure from the 17th century onwards Rosewell draws out the parallel with the common open web today and the existential threat the web now faces.

Contact us to find our more about how you can help.