The proverbial Holy Grail for every advertiser on the planet is the ability to uniquely identify you so they can show you ads will likely be of interest to you. For decades (and beyond), marketers were only able to send their messages out to targeted groups — not individuals. From the old Burma-Shave signs that dotted rural highways from 1925 to 1963 to the modern-day television commercials, advertisers attempted to target large groups of demographically similar people with their messages. Doing so helped resellers get the most bang for their advertising buck.
The concept is simple: people are different, and not everyone is interested in the same things. Advertisers know this, and don’t want to squander money on people that aren’t likely to be interested in the product they’re peddling. Men, for example, are much more receptive to ads for hunting and camping than women are. Women, on the other hand, are much more receptive to ads for clothing and accessories than men are. Sure, on the surface it sounds incredibly sexist, but guys, are you honestly interested in buying another pair of shoes? Ladies, do you care about the features on that new camp stove? Sexist or not, that’s just the way it works.
Gender is just one dimension that advertisers try to target. Area of the world, and even area of your country may impact what is advertised to you (and the manner in which you see it). Socioeconomics, religion, and even ethnicity play a role in marketing messages.
How can advertisers know what goods and services you (specifically) might be interested in, rather than what you (as a member of a group) may be interested in? That has been the missing component — until recently.
Nowadays we carry around these little devices in our pockets called “smartphones”. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Even if your phone doen’t have a phone number assigned to it, it still has an IMEI (or equivalent). Finally, a way for advertisers to uniquely identify you!
The International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) is a rather large number that is “usually” unique, and is used to identify a particular piece of hardware when it’s talking to your carrier’s communication equipment. You, the subscriber, are identified by another number, the IMSI, which is typically stored on your SIM card.
Both the IMEI and IMSI (and the functional equivalents on other carriers) are pretty good ways for advertisers to uniquely identify you. That’s really good news if you sell ads, but pretty creepy for everyone else (like you and I). Sure, we all want the ads we see to be relevant to what interests us, not just random crud, but we don’t want to give up too much personal identification to advertisers, right?
Version 4.0 of Google Play Services introduced some new APIs and an identifier that providers can use to know who you are, without knowing who you are. Under the new services, using your IMEI (or its equivalent) as an identifier is no longer permissible.
The new Android advertising identifier can only be used for advertising and user analytics, and is based on an “opt out” model. Every time an app attempts to check your advertising ID it must first see if you’ve opted out of interest based ads — and respect your choice.
Additionally, this new ID cannot be linked to any personally-identifiable information or “persistent device identifier” such as your SSAID, MAC address, IMEI, etc., unless you’ve given your “explicit consent” for them to do so.
What’s extra wonderful is that you, the end user, may generate a new, random ID any time you’d like! Also, anyone who’s used your old ID cannot connect data from old ID to your new ID.
Want to customize your preferences? Open Google Settings from your app drawer and tap “Ads”.
All in all, the new Advertising ID is a good thing and will help bring an extra layer of security and privacy to your Android experience — but will still help advertisers get messages that are relevant to you in front of your eyes.