Home Data Privacy Roundup This Startup Collects Mobile User Data – But Doesn’t Share It With Anyone

This Startup Collects Mobile User Data – But Doesn’t Share It With Anyone

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Privacy and personalization often feel mutually exclusive in ad tech.

And no wonder. The online advertising industry is in the midst of a mighty struggle to redefine itself in light of signal loss, regulatory scrutiny, platform privacy changes and negative consumer sentiment.

(As a side note, whenever I try to explain the industry I write about to one of my mother’s friends, they typically don’t know what I’m talking about until I say something like, “Well, you know those ads that follow you around the internet … yeah, I write about those companies.” That’s when it clicks.)

But it is possible to strike a balance between serving personalized ads and respecting someone’s privacy, said Abhishek Sen, CEO and co-founder of NumberEight, a mobile data platform that takes a novel approach to dealing with identity data deprecation.

As in, it doesn’t rely on identifiers.

“I know that sounds kind of funny to say you’re an identity company that doesn’t use IDs,” Sen said, “but there are other ways to do this without user-level identifiers or personal data.”

Targeting, in a sense

In jargonese, NumberEight has an SDK that analyzes real-time user behavior through mobile sensors and live context.

In English, that means NumberEight observes what someone is doing at a given moment in time in the physical world while they’re using an app, whether that’s driving, riding on a train, jogging in a park or walking on a city street.

Smartphones are packed with sensors and gyroscopes. That’s what makes them smart. They can detect location; whether a phone is stationary, moving or tilted; whether headphones are plugged in; whether the screen is locked; whether the phone is in proximity to a geofence; whether it’s light or dark outside … and many, many etceteras.

But instead of collecting all this data to create an identifier tied to a specific person, NumberEight creates cohorts of users based on their observed behaviors, which it refers to as “ID-less audiences.”


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Some examples of cohorts are people who often visit the beach, are frequent fliers, gamers, cinema buffs, museum-goers, parents or auto intenders.

Advertisers can target these cohorts through their DSP either in the moment – while someone is at the beach, say – or based on recent past activity. But the raw data never leaves a user’s device, gets bundled into a user ID or used for cross-site tracking, Sen said.

“You don’t need to do any of that to target these cohorts,” he said.

On-device intel

According to ad tech vet and former Verve Group COO Mike Brooks, who’s an advisor to NumberEight, the on-device computing power of smartphones today is one of the “two main pillars that will support the next phase of ad tech,” especially after third-party cookies are done for. (The other pillar is first-party data.)

All you have to do is look at recent moves by Apple and Google to see the truth of that statement.

In the Chrome Privacy Sandbox, for example, the Protected Audiences API (PAAPI … miss ya, FLEDGE 🐦) uses on-device processing to secure data within the browser. Apple, meanwhile, minimizes the amount of health data sent to its servers by generating on-device health metrics.

Comic: Something To Tell Our GrandkidsSpeaking of Apple, what about the “f” word? By which I mean “fingerprinting” – the practice of linking multiple device attributes together (time zone, screen resolution, IP address, battery life, plugins, etc.) to try and identify a user.

Apple is finally making moves to crack down on device fingerprinting on iOS by requiring apps and third-party SDKs to provide Privacy Manifests that list exactly what data they collect and track.

NumberEight’s data can’t be used to fingerprint people, because there’s no cross-device tracking or cross-app data sharing, Sen said. The data isn’t personally identifiable and, regardless, it’s never sent to a server.

“We always wait for the consent string, but none of this data can be traced back to a user,” Sen said. “It’s the gyroscope, it’s the accelerometer – nothing is actually PII.”

[A fun fact before you go: The name “NumberEight” is a reference to the infinity symbol, which would look like a number eight if it was standing upright.]

Thanks for reading! And stay warm, like these fine feline friends. It’s starting to get frosty out there. As always, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] with any comments or feedback.

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