SiriusXM figures out how to track audiences across its apps, including Pandora and Stitcher

The use of tracking cookies is winding down, and Apple’s anti-tracking privacy update has impacted mobile apps’ advertising revenues. But these changes have only prompted the adtech industry to get more creative with its solutions. The latest example comes from Pandora parent company SiriusXM, which this week rolled out a new way to identify and track its listening audience across apps, which it’s calling “AudioID.”

The new identity solution comes from AdsWizz, the digital audio adtech company Pandora acquired for $145 million back in 2018, gaining access to adtech products like dynamic ad insertion, campaign monitoring tools, podcast transcription tech and even weirder features — like “Shake Me” that let users shake their phones during an ad to trigger an action. Now, AdsWizz is being put to work in a new way, by powering the AudioID product.

To work, AudioID matches the data sets of user information across SiriusXM’s businesses, including its own satellite radio music service, as well as streaming apps Pandora and Stitcher — the podcast app it bought for $325 million in 2020.

The company explains that it looks for signals in the data sets that overlap. So, for example, if a customer signed up with the same email address across both Pandora and Stitcher, SiriusXM can combine those accounts into a single “AudioID.” Consumers won’t likely know this matching is happening behind the scenes. They aren’t being asked by the apps to provide any additional information or consent. There’s no opt-out. That’s because the AudioIDs are meant to be a stand-in for the traditional identifier which, in the past, may have contained or linked to a user’s personal information. SiriusXM, on the other hand, describes its AudioIDs as unique but “anonymized.”

But the AudioID can match together all kinds of signals beyond just an email or phone number to inform its creation. The technology can look for matches across device IDs, IP addresses and other user profile data, and then create an identifier that spans streaming apps. That means it can track a user’s listening behavior whether they’re playing music or podcasts in a mobile app, in the browser, in a car or on a smart device in their home.

In other words, the company has come up with a way that will continue to allow advertisers to target users with more relevant ads, but in a way that attempts to obfuscate the personal information and identity of the listener and instead focus on the content they listen to.

At launch, the solution will support first-party ad targeting, enhanced measurement, reach, forecasting and frequency capping use cases, says SiriusXM.

“We are entering a new era of identity — both in culture and in technology — that defines us not by who we are on paper or the cookies we leave behind, but by our interests and passions,” states Chris Record, AdsWizz SVP and head of Ad Product, Technology and Operations. “AudioID is a consumer-first, privacy-conscious infrastructure that will deliver our audiences the best experiences and give marketers access to data-driven capabilities like never before.”

Of course, it remains to be seen whether consumers will appreciate the positioning of this type of solution — especially after they receive highly targeted ads after tapping a “do not track” pop-up in their mobile app. The assumption on marketers’ part, of course, is that consumers actually welcome personalized ads because they’re more relevant to their interests. They believe the issue is that consumers don’t want their personal information floating around in advertisers’ dossiers. Arguably, though, consumers who opt-out of tracking understand the trade-off is that the ads they encounter may become less precise. But they tap that button anyway. If anything, that’s because consumers are opting out not only out of a desire for protecting their private, personal information, but because highly personalized ads have gotten far too creepy. The AudioID solution doesn’t seem to address that aspect of consumers’ complaints with modern-day adtech — especially if it’s collecting and compiling a user’s “interests and passions” for better targeting.

SiriusXM notes that the solution is opt-in for its partnered publishers and marketers — they don’t have to use AudioID, in other words. It says that later in 2022, it will extend this first-party targeting to off-platform marketers and advertisers across AdsWizz in the U.S., as well.