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Opera Tracks App Installations Within Apple's Rules

Apple's new rule against iOS app tracking based on the device's UDID is causing problems for ad-based programs, but a subsidiary of Opera has a workaround.

Apple's move in late March to begin rejecting applications that access the iOS device's unique identification number (UDID) is creating problems for developers and publishers who need to trace clicks and downloads in order to pay the right price for Web-based promotions.

Last October, Apple warned developers that it soon would stop supporting apps that relied on the UDID for advertising. It advised developers to instead "create a unique identifier specific to your app."

Apple knows too well that the UDID compromises a user's privacy, and that that vulnerability was recently exploited by Path and others. When a developer reverse-engineered Path's method for obtaining and uploading users' address books without their consent, founder and CEO Dave Morin blogged a mea culpa and Congress got involved, sending a letter to Tim Cook at Apple asking to explain its privacy policy regarding mobile devices.

In early March, Catherine A. Novelli, VP of worldwide government affairs for Apple, responded to Congress' request concerning what Apple is doing to ensure user privacy on iPhones and iPads:

"...our privacy policy makes clear to our users that once a third-party application is downloaded to the user's device, the user's exchange of information with that third-party app is between the user and the app, and that the information exchange is governed by the privacy policy of the app."

In other words, you're on your own after you download the app. Apple, which receives over 26,000 iOS applications for review each week, specifically tells developers that "apps may not collect user or device data without prior user consent, and then only to provide a service or function that is directly relevant to the use of the application, or to serve advertising."

Apple wasn't singled out by Congress, which sent letters to Path, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, and 30 other companies about their mobile privacy practices.

This month Opera introduced App-Tribute, a "small footprint SDK that developers include in their applications to track successful downloads and subsequent installs of an application." Partnering with publisher customers, Opera believes it has struck a balance of providing an accurate account of who downloaded what app from where while still maintaining the privacy of the user who clicked on and downloaded it because the UDID, cookies, and MAC addresses are not captured in the transaction.

It works for app-based advertising campaigns and enables cost-per-click, per-download, per-install, and per-mille or 1000 impressions promotions. It works across all ad formats, including banners and interstitials--those advertisements that appear in a separate browser window while you wait for your Web page to load.

"Since the launch of iOS in 2007 and Android in 2009, we've watched both sides of the industry--both developers who want to advertise their apps and those that want to monetize their app traffic--struggle with the thorny issue of promoting and tracking app downloads. We've seen schemes that attempted to solve the problem through device and user tracking, many of which raise troubling questions around accuracy and consumer privacy," said Mahi de Silva, EVP of consumer mobile at Opera Software.

Opera, through its subsidiary AdMarvel, says it's already in production with customers including a leading personalized Internet radio service and some leading mobile game developers.

App-Tribute is an industry tool to resolve payment for promotions. It's not a standard, so it does little to satisfy the privacy concerns of Congress or the average user who hopes to browse the Web or walk around town with relative anonymity. Mobile device users are still pretty much on their own and they have to trust the privacy policy of the third-party app they've downloaded.

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