Connect with top gaming leaders in Los Angeles at GamesBeat Summit 2023 this May 22-23. Register here.

On average, consumers spend two hours and 51 minutes each day on mobile screens and not surprisingly, advertisers are scrambling to keep up. This year we will pass the tipping point with mobile spend projected at $27 billion, eclipsing desktop for the first time. By 2017, mobile is anticipated to account for more than two-thirds of digital advertising spend.

Despite this influx of investment, mobile still faces significant measurement challenges preventing us from truly understanding the impact of the medium. The primary reason behind this challenge is the lack of cookies in mobile applications. Over 70 percent of mobile ad spending happens on apps, which are cookie-less and lack a uniform identifier. This is why you continue to get Game of War ads even though you’ve repeatedly implied “no” to downloading it. Tracking user behavior from one app to another and then across devices is close to impossible.

Life is easier in the display world. Cookies are part of Internet standards and are supported by almost all major browsers. In the world of mobile however, tracking is inconsistent. For example, iOS devices by default do not accept third-party cookies, and that’s just for mobile web. For in-app user identification, Apple provides one code, Google provides another (with various encryption methods), and both allow users to opt out of making any data available to third parties.

For networks without login data, proprietary identification methods have been known as ‘probabilistic tracking’ – an inexact science that aggregates various data points about the device and makes a decision about the identifier.

Tracking within siloed solutions like Google User ID or Facebook Atlas can minimize this guessing, but these methods only offer partial solutions, tracking a login via one platform or the other. It’s not the holistic answer that marketers need.

Quality App, Quality Media?

Apps pose the same viewability risks that the desktop ecosystem has only recently started to solve. In the native environment of apps, there are limited processes to determine if an ad is viewable. Everyone in digital advertising knows about the risk of poor viewability and ad fraud. As ad spending moves to an environment ill-equipped to protect itself from these problems, the threat of inefficient ad campaigns is greater on mobile than on desktop.

In addition, brand safety is an issue. Without a uniform identifier, there is limited visibility into the content within apps. Unlike websites, apps don’t send referral URLs, which reveal the site name and associated content. Without this identifier, it is difficult for any agency-side tools to independently identify the app name and surrounding content. Without this control of where ads are appearing, advertisers simply don’t know if the app’s content aligns with their brand.

The Ecosystem Needs Rules

If mobile advertising is to continue its growth, advertisers need the same level of transparency that they have on desktop, such as knowing where their ads show up, whether their ads are actually viewable and the role of advertising in conversion. Imagine the state of desktop advertising if this were impossible – advertisers would lack confidence and spending would head back over to TV.

The mobile ecosystem needs a framework and set of rules that allow accurate measurement and ad verification, whether that’s enhancements in current measurement (i.e. MRAID) or something completely new. If growth is to continue, the industry must come together to create a system that protects every stakeholder, allowing them to buy, sell, and measure the effectiveness of mobile advertising accurately and responsibly.

To get involved, explore the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence and join the conversation through working groups and guideline creation.

Jason Cooper is general manager of mobile at Integral Ad Science.

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.