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Device ID and A Cross-Ecosystem Connection

Device ID can refer to many identifiers. Get clarification on manufacturer Device ID and get details on a robust cross-ecosystem data connection that respects PII.

James Farrelly - 20 Jul 2020
6 min read

Device ID is a term that is commonly used to refer to various identifiers such as IMEI, TAC, MAC address, advertising ID, IDFA, AAID and even cookie ID. However, in the consumer device ecosystem it’s most commonly used to refer to the hardware / manufacturer device ID (e.g. Apple’s UDID).

Below, we clarify what the device ID is, detail how people can find their own device ID, outline how businesses in different ecosystems are using device IDs and we also highlight a valuable cross-ecosystem connection that businesses can utilize while respecting personally identifiable information (PII).

What Is Device ID

A device ID is a unique identifier, made up of letters and numbers, that is associated with all smartphones and tablets. Device IDs can be accessed in different ways and these ways vary depending on the operating system in use.

Where To Find Your Device ID

With Android (at 73.3%) and iOS (at 25.9%) making up over 99% of the mobile operating system market share worldwide, let’s focus on these two operating systems.

Device ID – Apple iOS

Apple’s iOS device ID is referred to as UDID (Unique Device Identifier) – it’s a unique alpha-numeric identification string that is made up of 40 characters on devices released before September 2018.

To access your UDID, simply follow these steps:

  1. Open iTunes (if you’re still using iTunes)
  2. Connect your device
  3. Click on your device in the top menu
  4. Click on “Serial Number”

Your UDID will then be revealed and should look, for example, like this: EE63TC87C98P0VYD6P95T546541STB7D23T85315.

Device ID – Android

Android device IDs are generated when first booted and, as such, can be changed when a factory reset is completed.

A simple way to access your Android device ID is to follow these steps:

  1. Visit Google Play
  2. Search for and select a device ID app
  3. Download and open the app

When the app is launched your unique alpha-numeric device ID will be shown and should look, for example, something like this: lc1122ksjf5h7456.

Device ID Cross-Ecosystem Connection Graphic | Device Intelligence

Hardware-Based IDs And Software-Based IDs

The device IDs (detailed above) are known as persistent device IDs or hardware-based identifiers. In the past, Google and Apple made these IDs easily accessible to businesses. However, as a result of government and media pressure, Apple removed easy access to these IDs in 2012 and Google followed suit shortly after.

The key issue highlighted was that hardware-based IDs are uniquely associated to just one device (early versions even contained IMEIs) and that there is no opt-out feature. As a resolution, Apple and Google removed access to their hardware-based IDs and replaced them with software-based advertising IDs that can be disabled or reset.

Google's software-based advertising ID is AAID (Android Advertising ID), and Apple's is IDFA (Identifier for Advertising). Apple has recently gone one step further, their IDFA is now effectively opt-in only in iOS 14. This will have a huge impact on advertisers, app publishers and the AdTech ecosystem. It will be interesting to see if Google follows suit again.

Where Is The Device ID Used By Businesses – 3 Key Ecosystems

As mentioned previously, device ID is a term that is commonly used to refer to various identifiers such as IMEI, TAC, MAC address, advertising ID, IDFA, AAID and even cookie ID, however, in the mobile consumer device ecosystem it’s most commonly used to refer to the hardware / manufacturer device ID, such as Apple’s UDID.

Typically, businesses use this device ID for web and app optimization, analytics, testing and even for advertising purposes if the data is non-personally identifiable 

The device ID is typically siloed in different industries and can be particularly useful in the following ecosystems.

1. Apps

App developers can access their user’s device ID with the right permissions. Apps can then use the device ID feature to add value to the user (e.g. conveniently display the device ID to the user, provide personalization features), enhance their analytics capabilities, while also utilizing it for licensing purposes. 

2. Mobile Network Operator (MNO)

MNOs typically use the Type-Allocation Code (TAC) as their unique device identifier. This, however, is limited as many devices can have one TAC. For more refined results MNOs that have apps installed on customer devices can combine the TAC with their consumer’s device ID. Alternatively and without offering an app, MNOs can combine the TAC with detailed device data to get similar results on a device-capability (non-PII) level rather than on a user-level. They can then use this data to make more informed business decisions relating to network optimizations, etc. – see more opportunities for the MNO ecosystem, here.

3. Web

In the web environment, developers that do not offer apps typically use the User-Agent string to get similar insights to those available via device ID (e.g. device capabilities), but with a reduced PII risk.

Limitations around accuracy, performance, maintenance and identifying device capabilities typically arise as actionable device insights can only be unravelled accurately through sustained and dedicated attention to mapping and interpreting entropy.

However, if done effectively this method can be used to identify device capabilities accurately and, as a result, developers can then optimize their website for each device type, detect bots and enhance their analytics, etc. – see more opportunities for the web environment, here.

Cross-Ecosystem Connection

Historically, each of the above ecosystems has been a silo, which limits cross-ecosystem insights and performance enhancement opportunities. As connected devices move freely between different ecosystems, an anonymous ID can prove valuable to businesses and their end-users.

The DeviceAtlas Device ID is a unique non-PII identifier that spans the web, app and MNO ecosystems. Multiple keys, which include the User-Agent string, app Make / Model (aka Build.MANUFACTURER / Build.MODEL) and TAC, are indexed to the unique DeviceAtlas Device ID which enables cross-ecosystem insights.

Sourced from multiple industry-leading partnerships ensuring the highest device identification rate, DeviceAtlas provides the most accurate and comprehensive device data on the market with highly optimized and lightning fast lookups from a unique identifier: the DeviceAtlas Device ID.

The below chart provides an overview of the cross-ecosystem connection enabled, in an anonymous manner, by DeviceAtlas.

As can be seen above, the Web, App and MNO ecosystems can use their device identifiers, the TAC, User-Agent string and app Make / Model (aka Build.MANUFACTURER / Build.MODEL) respectively, to create a connection to other ecosystems via a common, anonymous, robust unique identifier: the DeviceAtlas Device ID. The DeviceAtlas Device ID is a key field enabling linkage of data between the different ecosystems.

Learn more about DeviceAtlas Device ID, contact us here.