When You Use Multiple Devices, Can Marketers Still Track You?

New Study Focuses on “Identity Fragmentation” and Biases in Marketing

Key Takeaways: 

  • Researchers develop an alternative to “identity linking.”
  • New approach leads to wider coverage for online marketers.


CATONSVILLE, MD, June 1, 2022 – If you only used one device, like your smartphone, for all of your internet searches and other applications, the data collected about you through that device would provide a picture of your preferences, habits and behaviors. This would help marketers better anticipate and specifically market to you going forward.

However, people often use multiple browsers or devices, including an office computer, personal computer and smartphone, across multiple websites and applications. Although your activity will still be monitored, it is much more difficult for marketers to trace it across devices and back to you. This makes it a challenge for marketers to customize user experience.

According to a new study, the core problem for marketers is the fact that online interactions are often recorded with different identifiers for the same consumer, which leads to identity fragmentation.

The study, published in the current issue of the INFORMS journal Marketing Science, “Frontiers: The Identity Fragmentation Bias,” is authored by Tesary Lin of Boston University and Sanjog Misra of The University of Chicago. 

“Traditionally, marketers have attempted to overcome the identity fragmentation challenge through identity linking, in which pieces of information are collected and linked to create a comprehensive understanding of the user,” says Lin. “However, even the best identity-linking methods can only stitch together parts of fragmented records, so we are not seeing the whole picture.”

“Our research in this area led us to propose a different approach called stratified aggregation,” adds Misra. “Instead of constructing user-level records, we were able to create user-group-level records (aggregation) and refine the group through a process called stratification. This enabled us to achieve a more unbiased view of consumers. By relaxing the need for constructing user-level data, we can achieve wider coverage, which helps marketers better achieve their own objectives and avoid complications caused by identity linking.”


Link to Study


About INFORMS and Marketing Science

Marketing Science is a premier peer-reviewed scholarly marketing journal focused on research using quantitative approaches to study all aspects of the interface between consumers and firms. It is published by INFORMS, the leading international association for operations research and analytics professionals. More information is available at www.informs.org or @informs.


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When You Use Multiple Devices, Can Marketers Still Track You?

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Ashley Smith
Public Affairs Coordinator
Catonsville, MD
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