Cross-Device Tracking

Cross-Device Tracking An FTC Workshop

Constitution Center 400 7th St SW, Washington, DC 20024 | Directions & Nearby

Event Description

Not long ago, consumers accessed the Internet primarily through the browser on their desktop or laptop PC.  While the PC remains a fixture for many, today’s typical consumer relies on a variety of different connected devices to navigate their daily lives.  Examples include consulting a traffic app on a smart phone on the commute to work; surfing the net or downloading a book to a tablet device; or streaming television programs on an Internet-connected TV.  As consumers move seamlessly from one device to the next, they interact with a multiplicity of platforms, software applications, service providers, and publishers.

The proliferation of devices and their corresponding technologies has created new challenges for marketers and consumers.  In the past, cookies allowed companies to track consumers’ online activities for targeted advertising and allowed consumers to exercise and store their privacy choices.  Such traditional tracking technology, however, does not operate across the multi-device, multi-platform digital landscape.  A cookie may paint an incomplete picture of the consumer who switches between different web browsers at home and at work.  Further, a cookie stored on a consumer’s browser cannot provide insight into the consumer’s activities or preferences within the “sandboxed” apps on the consumer’s phone.

As a result, industry has turned to alternate techniques to track consumers across their devices.  One method is “deterministic” tracking, in which a publisher or platform requires the consumer to sign in to access its service.  This allows the company to link the consumer’s various devices to a single account.  Another method involves the collection of information such as device type, operating system, fonts, and IP address to create a digital fingerprint to link a user to different devices.  Such “probabilistic” tracking is generally invisible to consumers and, unlike tracking through cookies, the consumer has no ability to control it.  Accordingly, this practice raises a number of privacy concerns and questions.  We propose hosting a public discussion on Monday, November 16, 2015 to address issues related to cross device tracking.  The event will include a variety of stakeholders and topics will include:

  • What are the different types of cross device tracking, how do they work, and what are they used for?
  • What types of information and benefits do companies gain from using these technologies?
  • What benefits do consumers derive from the use of these technologies?
  • What are the privacy and security risks associated with the use of these technologies?
  • How can companies make their tracking more transparent and give consumers greater control over it?
  • Do current industry self-regulatory programs apply to different cross device tracking techniques?


If you have questions about the workshop, please email or contact Megan Cox at (202) 326-2282.

Event Details

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