Google’s recent announcement that it is preparing to offer behaviorally targeted ads for mobile devices has led to concerns regarding the tracking required to implement such functionality. Online behavioral advertising has typically been implemented using cookies placed through a user’s web browser when the user visits a website. Mobile devices, however, often access the Internet through applications that run outside of web browsers and do not support cookies. This has left web hosts, advertisers, and those that sell advertising to find other ways to track online user behavior. Google intends to tie users’ in-app behavior to their mobile devices’ unique “device identifiers,” potentially raising privacy concerns.
Google’s announcement regarding mobile device tracking comes amidst growing scrutiny related to Internet tracking and privacy. For example, in April 2011, Senators John Kerry (D., Mass.) and John McCain (R., Ariz.) proposed legislation setting forth “fair information practice principles” that would set minimum standards regarding the acceptability of information collection. More recently, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D., W. Va.) went a step further, proposing an affirmative obligation for companies to not track people who click a browser flag indicating that they do not want to be tracked. Additionally, Google’s new policy shortly preceded a lawsuit filed against it in federal court in Michigan alleging, among other things, that Google “d[id] not disclose its comprehensive tracking of users nor its use of a unique device ID attached to each specific phone” in its Terms of Service.