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What is ‘on-device’ ad tech & how does it benefit the ad industry?

Written by Daniel Pike for the IAB.

As the industry searches for more effective ways to increase ad revenues while protecting user privacy, many publishers are turning to ‘on-device’ solutions – also known as edge computing – as a means of achieving both.

Traditional digital advertising solutions are built around a personal identifier (ID) representing you, the user. They then track your online behaviors as you live out your life across the internet, linking online to offline activity, such as your brick-and-mortar credit card purchases. Personal data is taken from a consumer device into the cloud for processing and then reconciled to users using personal IDs. Personal data is bought and sold. It might be accurate, fabricated, or incorrect. Some will be matched to the wrong user, some will be matched to no user at all and, of course, publishers and end users will have very little control or visibility over any of it.

That is all changing. Consumer privacy concerns are more pressing than ever. Regulators and big tech platforms are rightly acting to protect users from excessive tracking and personal data collection. If you started from scratch today, you just wouldn’t – perhaps couldn’t – build an ad ecosystem in the same way.

The ‘on-device’ approach uses edge computing principles to provide one compelling alternative. It is attractive because it promises high-quality audiences, increased reach and revenues, and a substantially improved privacy profile.

An on-device ad tech architecture flips the traditional ad tech ecosystem on its head. Data is not sent to the cloud for processing. Instead, data stays where it is, encrypted, and all the clever stuff happens locally on the user's own device – on their phone or laptop for example, often within the app or website they are using. Because data does not leave the device, personal IDs are not needed to reconcile a user to their data. When designed well, there is no way to link any data to an identifiable individual.

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