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Capture-Recapture Methods for Data on the Activation of Applications on Mobile Phones

posted on 03.05.2018, 20:38 by Mamadou Yauck, Louis-Paul Rivest, Greg Rothman

This work is concerned with the analysis of marketing data on the activation of applications (apps) on mobile devices. Each application has a hashed identification number that is specific to the device on which it has been installed. This number can be registered by a platform at each activation of the application. Activations on the same device are linked together using the identification number. By focusing on activations that took place at a business location, one can create a capture-recapture dataset about devices, that is, users, that “visited” the business: the units are owners of mobile devices and the capture occasions are time intervals such as days. A unit is captured when she activates an application, provided that this activation is recorded by the platform providing the data. Statistical capture-recapture techniques can be applied to the app data to estimate the total number of users that visited the business over a time period, thereby providing an indirect estimate of foot traffic. This article argues that the robust design, a method for dealing with a nested mark-recapture experiment, can be used in this context. A new algorithm for estimating the parameters of a robust design with a fairly large number of capture occasions and a simple parametric bootstrap variance estimator are proposed. Moreover, new estimation methods and new theoretical results are introduced for a wider application of the robust design. This is used to analyze a dataset about the mobile devices that visited the auto-dealerships of a major auto brand in a U.S. metropolitan area over a period of 1 year and a half. Supplementary materials for this article, including a standardized description of the materials available for reproducing the work, are available as an online supplement.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and of the Institut des Sciences Mathmatiques du Qubec and the contribution of the marketing platform Ninth Decimal for providing the data analyzed in this article.