Category Archives: Opinion
Mobile Attribution is Broken.
Single SDK mobile attribution was originally conceived as much needed layer of tracking transparency for a nascent mobile app industry. But I contend that these attribution providers have ultimately failed to support the industry in a way that provides adequate transparency and fair competition for all stake holders. Today the performance industry’s top attribution platforms have become as opaque as the industry they sought to change.
A Brief History
At the beginning of the noughties when the internet was consumed in only one place – the desktop browser – advertisers and publishers would make pixel integrations with each other to support tracking. This was a form of direct tracking carried out between an advertiser and every publisher they agreed to work with.
Fast forward to the mobile app era, where app developers (advertisers) are confronted with the prospect of integrating tracking SDK’s for every publisher they wanted to use to promote their app. Clearly this would be a time consuming process that would bloat or potentially destabilise the advertisers app. Not an ideal scenario. And so the idea of the attribution industry we’ve come to know was born. A single SDK mediating all publishers and requiring advertisers to make only one tracking integration to realise the promise of transparent, unbiased tracking.
The Last Click
One of the key ways in which attribution platforms work is to rely on a chronology of user events from when the user is served with an ad impression, right up until the last touchpoint where the user reaches the app store. This historical look back window or ‘Attribution Window’ is used to determine which publisher should be awarded the paid tracking event – typically an install.
Lets use a simplified example to illustrate how this works. Take AdNetwork ‘A’ who sent a user to the app store through an ad they clicked on Saturday 10th Feb at 9:30 AM. However, this user did not install the advertised app. Now, enter AdNetwork ‘B’ who had the same user click their ad for the same app on Saturday 10th February at 9:35 AM. The user installed the app directly after this click. If all other things are considered equal, then Network B would be attributed with the’Install’ event and Network A would be marked as the ‘Contributor’, a largely meaningless categorisation. This is why last click matters so much, because it is one of the major hinges upon which tracking platforms rely upon to determine where hundreds of millions of the ad dollars go.
In many ways the ‘last click’ methodology for tracking makes a lot of sense. There are many ad networks running the same campaign and competing for the same users and payouts. Someone has to play referee and award the paid event to a publisher. And this would be impossible without referring to the last historical touchpoint of the user.
However, in-app environments have exposed critical weaknesses in this methodology that bad actors have exploited in order to be attributed for hundreds of millions in ad dollars, when they were never part of the flow that led the user to install an app in the first place.
Exploiting Attribution Windows
Tracking providers rely on their integrations with the app stores to tell them what a user does after they are delivered to the store via one of their attribution links. This is done using a referrer ID and it is communicated from the store to the attribution platform, telling the latter that an install has occurred from a specific user.
Remember, tracking providers don’t track the actual click on the ‘download’ button inside the app store, nor when the users successfully downloads the app. Rather they deliver the user to the store and wait for communication from store to determine if an install event occurred for that user. A combination of the referrer ID being broadcast by the store followed by an app ‘open’ event allow the tracking provider to confirm the download and attribute it appropriately.
Up to very recently the Google Pay store never communicated these ID’s with a timestamp. This allowed rogue publishers with malware installed on a users device to hijack the referrer ID and broadcast it as attributable to their publisher instead. When in reality they had no role in the user installation.
*Adjust have laid out a nice chronological graphic in their blog post highlighting this Click Injection methodology.
The practice of click injection has gone unchecked for almost 2 years spawning an industry full of fraud, massive distrust and anti competition for which these tracking providers must accept responsibility for.
An End to Attribution Fraud (For Some)
This is set to change as Google announced toward the end of 2017 that it was adding a timestamp to its referrer API, thus giving tracking providers a reference point to identify if a click injection event had occurred between the time they left the user at the store and the app open event. This effectively closes the loophole and should see an end to this form of fraud in 2018.
Closing this loophole is a welcome update for the industry. Beyond creating unmerited profit for the perpetrators, it caused a huge imbalance in the competitive landscape of app monetisation. Unheard of SDK adnetworks utilising click injection where able to create pumped up eCPM rates for complicit publishers, creating an anti competitive environment for other networks.
But this update from tracking providers only represents an end to attribution fraud for some. The tracking industry is so fundamentally broken that Self Attributing platforms like Facebook continue to claim large swathes of installs attributable to organic downloads and paid for ad network media.
There are two main reasons why tracking providers allow this to occur unchecked:
- Self Attributing Platforms: Facebook can be termed as self-attributing ad network. This means they tell industry leading tracking platforms what events are attributable to them, rather than the other way around. Its a bit like ripping up a bank’s ledger, then telling your bank manager that you counted all the money and you are pinky-swear certain that all the money is yours. And so we see this played out time and again where there is reportedly consistent and large discrepancies between what self attributors claim as their installs and what the tracking providers record as rightfully attributable to them.
- Lock Back Window Bias: The sheer scale of self attributing ad networks like Facebook mean that the attribution look-back window becomes a biased methodology for ascertaining attributable events. Think about it, if the impression look-back window for FB is even 24 hours, they need only serve and ad (no user engagement) in order to claim an install that might otherwise have been organic (free) for the advertiser.
For all the good these tracking providers attempt to achieve the fact remains that the very lifeblood of their business is so existentially tied up in supporting platforms like Facebook (their Advertising customers demand it) that even if they wanted to, they are powerless to change things.
Ultimately, the mobile app attribution industry in its current form is so fundamentally broken that its fair to say even small-wins like identifying malware click injections are utterly irrelevant in the big picture. Attribution platforms were originally built to bring attribution authority and transparency to the mobile ad industry but instead they have been utterly complicit in creating an environment for fraud to occur on huge scale. Because where there is no transparency there is no recourse, for any industry stakeholder.
We are super proud that our very own Kamila Sherlin was invited to speak on the Graduate Panel at the Faculty of Business and Management, Ben Gurion University!
Her talk focused on the following:
– Career path and current role
– Tips to current students
– Job interviews and job search process
We’re privileged to have you as part of the display.io team!
Analytics: 62 Experts Give their Opinion
Analytics are at the back bone of everything we do here at display.io, from audience targeting, adserving and optimization – making sense of the analytic data that comes with the territory remains a core value at our company.
Our friends at uninstall.io recently released a superb article on analytics where they gathered key companies and minds in the online industry to piece together the present and furture of analytics in a superb opinion piece- including a short comment from our own CEO , Stephen Caffrey.
Click here to access the article.
Here’s four arguments from our very own Natalia Makselon-Sinuani (Mangaing Director, display.io) stating the case for the positive effect smartphones have on on world-wide societies.
- Companies that Redefine Traditional Industries
There is no doubt that mobile has pushed technologies forward. Just a few days ago I read an article about two Kenyan students who designed “smart greenhouses”, allowing farmers to control temperature, humidity and soil moisture via their mobile phones. (1)
Meanwhile, Machine Zone (MZ) a well-known game developer from the US is bringing its unique technology to improve public transportation. The MZ 360 view technology will help New Zealand government manage its burgeoning trains and buses networks. (2)
The platform launch revealed that MZ isn’t just a game company. It’s also a technology creator
Dean Takahashi, VentureBeat April 9th, 2016
Uber and Airbnb are classic example of apps that redefined the whole industries. These companies have created new standards in well established industries by empowering the individual rather than companies.
Moreover, many revolutionary apps have a global reach and huge impact on growing and redefining not just industries but whole economies. Just a few weeks ago Sound Arabian Public Investment Fund announced a $3.5 billion investment into Uber as a part of Saudi Vision 2030, a mega plan to reshape and diversify the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy. (3)
In China the impact of the mobile industry on country’s economy is so big that the government has launched several financial support programs incentivizing traditional industries to go online and go mobile. In January 2015 Tencent – A mobile social and gaming company – launched the first ‘online only’ bank in China using its in-house technology and big data algorithms to help small and medium sizes businesses get loans easier and faster (4)
Speaking of a mobile revolution in the financial sector it is worth mentioning DBS. This Singapore based bank – considered one of the largest in Asia – has completely redefined consumer banking in the country by striking down anything that clients find as either unpleasant or time consuming. Services such as SMS Q (send text message to receive your number in the queue and receive one back when your turn is coming), pop-up ATMs and 5minute loans available through smart phones are just few examples of how DBS technology reshaping one of the most ingrained businesses in the world. (5)
- Apps that Changes the Culture
Just a few years ago some would find it unbelievable that four Chinese companies would list in the top 10 Internet companies in the world, ranked by market capitalization. Yet, in 2015 e-commerce giants JD.com and Alibaba, search specialists Baidu and multiple sector app developer Tencent were ranked as 3rd, 5th 6th and 7th world largest dot-com companies, right after Amazon (1st), Google (2nd) and Facebook (4th), biting other huge American brands like eBay (9th), Netflix (10th) or Twitter (19th). Enormous, worldwide success of apps such as Alibaba, Wechat by Tencent, Du Battery by Baidu or NetEase games is a perfect example of how smartphones industries influence global culture.
After two decades of Internet development under the Communist Party’s leadership, his country found a path of “cyber-governance with Chinese characteristics.
Lu Wei, Senior Executive of Cybersecurity, China
App developers and online marketing companies bring new work culture, break old-fashioned hierarchy rules and at the same time promote values of Chinese cultural as well as Chinese business abroad.
However it is not only in China, where mobile strongly influences the culture. For generation Y (6) social communication apps like Facebook, Instagram or Wechat are the center of social interaction.
Pew researches announced that today over 27% of youth declares using online dating apps and 7% of US adults aged between 30-49% met their spouse online. (7)
What’s even more surprising is that dating apps are very successful not just in the US, but also in more traditional or religious societies where dating was not socially or even legally accepted until very recently. For instance, India where 90% of marriages are arranged (according to CNN report (8)), is one of Tinder largest market with 400% yearly growth. Alluding to the positive impact on women, VP of communication at Tinder Riseet Pambakian said that Tinder empower women by giving them a choice, and control over their own lives instead of being held back by traditional barriers that stop them from expending their social circles.
Apparently, Tinder is also the number 1 lifestyle paid app in Saudi Arabia (source: App Annie, June 14 2016), followed by another dating app Soudfa. That’s quite surprising considering the fact that the interaction between single, unrelated members of the opposite sex is punishable under Saudi Arabian law by imprisonment or even death.
- Mobile that Gives Sight to the Developing World
Its no secret that social media apps are primary source of information during anti-governmental protests.
Moreover, according to sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, who has spent her career studying the effects of such social platforms on political behavior and made her research on uprisings in Egypt, Ukraine and Turkey, social platforms have a positive impact on the ability of dissidents and alternative political movements to organize and communicate.
Why is that? Social tools such as Facebook or Twitter make it easy plan events and connect groups. They help the protesters bypass restrictive communication laws and curfews, making possible many of the crucial movements during the recent Arab Spring in the Middle East.
That kind of organizational feature have a very powerful psychological impact,
because once people know that others share their beliefs or feelings about a movement it becomes easier to take collective action
Zeynep Tufekci, Sociologist
In addition to being a tremendous source of information and communication smartphones have one more powerful tool – the camera. Huffington Post mentions Mohamed Bouazizi – a Tunisian who was filmed using camera phone setting himself on fire in protest against police corruption in the country- became a symbol for the Tunisian revolution. The subsequent videos quickly became viral and kick-started the uprising. What’s ironic Bouazizi was not the only man who lit himself on fire in this protest – there was another man who did exact same thing – Abdesslem Trimech but nobody mentions him today as his death was not filmed or communicated by the worldwide mobile crowd. (9)
Another aspect in which mobile phones help the developing world is supporting growing economies and education. In Africa, schools that never had textbooks are incorporating smartphones as an information source with help of American universities and volunteers from Stanford. In Mexico the mobile industry generated $40 billion in value-added terms in 2015, accounting for almost 3.5 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to a new GSMA report. (10)
In many parts of the world, more people have access to a mobile device than to a toilet or running water
Nancy Gibbs, Times Magazine
Onno Ruhl – Director of the World Bank Country in India, said the digital revolution is transforming the world by facilitating a ‘flow of information’ and creating huge opportunities for growth and poverty reduction. (Indian Express). Meanwhile, in India there are hundreds of apps offering free internet access to its users as a reward for small in-app actions such as engaging in advertisements. Jana – company who owns one of the most popular lifestyle apps in India recently raised over 50 mln$ to bring internet to developing world. So far their app Mcent has over 30 mln users in 93 developing countries, including India, Mexico, Indonesia and Brazil as the primary markets. That’s a serious step forward for many people in growing economies; free internet access is helping them getting education, finding jobs or even founding local businesses. (11)
- Smartphones that Save Lives
A final argument for proving the positive outcome from smartphone usage are applications that literally help saving human lives. Numerous researchers, including George Whitesides at Harvard University, are using mobile phones to bring medical care to African villages where people otherwise would have to walk for a day or more to get medical cares. In 2008, female entrepreneur with African roots – Sivan Borowich-Ya’ari set up innovation program to bring Israeli innovation to African villages. In only 5 years “Innovation: Africa” had provided electricity, clean water, food and medical care to more than 450,000 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda. Borowich admits that cell-phones were a huge asset of this project. Thanks to cell-phones “Innovation: Africa” managed to create strong community and sustainable business that supports the growth of the region. (12)
On the other side of the globe, American app – Owlet Baby Care – takes care of human life in very early stages. Owlet Baby Cares allows parents to monitor their new born babies’ vitals signs while their little one sleeps and alerts parents in case heart rate or oxygen levels fall outside of normal range (13). Similarly, the Dubai Health Authority is rushing through the launch of health applications for Ramadan to enable those who are fasting to adjust their medical requirements accordingly. Apps like Hayati that helps diabetics to manage sugar level or Tiffi – app dedicated to pregnant women to monitor theirs conditions and are part of Citizens Smart Application government’s initiative.
The big players in mobile do not stand by and watch – they take effective action shaping the world. Google mobile app just launched an update letting users search for symptoms of malady and receiving a list of possible conditions and treatments of the disease as well as a list of doctors for immediate contact. The feature was introduced this Monday (June 21st 2016) on iOS & Android apps as well as on google mobile website. (14)
An amazing real-life example on how smartphones save lives comes from Philadelphia in the US where 23 year old Andrew Jospehon wrote a mobile app to monitor heart sounds that saved his mother’s live. His app which uses smartphone microphone to match user’s hearthbeat with medical recordings and determine if the beat is irregular. The app discovered and diagnosed Jospehon mother’s hearth disorder – mitral valve regurgitation – which if left untreated may cause death. The family was skeptical about the results at first, given the fact that Tina Josephon (Andrew’s mother) is a doctor of internal medicine and never noticed the symptoms of heart disease. However, when Dr Josepho ran additional tests and consulted an additional cardiologist she found out that her son’s app saved her life. (15)
Yet, monitoring medical records is just one element how smartphones keep us safe and healthy. There are hundreds of emergencies that happen every day and many times those needing help are not able to communicate with first responders. This is especially true during large-scale emergencies like the mass shooting in Orlando on June 12 – says Ian Smith from WFAA – ABC internet television.
Luckily there are technologies that allow for emergency crew to help as efficiently and quickly as possible.
Emergency features are standard on both iPhones and Android phones and they keep all of your health information in one place that can be accessed by emergency responders even if your phone is locked – explains Smith – On the iPhone, click on the health app which is labeled with a “heart” icon to create your personal medical file.
Another, equally important aspect is emergencies prevention. Just before Euro 2016, the French government has launched the mobile app to alert sports fans about potential attacks or terror danger. Users of the app can sign up to eight different “geographical zones” covering the nine different host cities. (16)
The last example of our life saving smartphones that I‘ll highlight here is a revolutionary start-up developed by Berkley University Seismology Lab and US Geologic Service. This app is meant to prevent humanity not from diseases or violence but from natural disasters. “ShakeAlert” app will be able to predict an earthquake strikes and send an immediate warning to all users located in risk zone. Joshua Sherman from Digital trends mentions that early warning will allow people to seek shelter from falling debris, turn off gas lines to prevent fires or stop a surgery to minimize harm to a patient. ShakeAlert can predict earthquakes up to 90 seconds before they strike and save life thousands of its citizens. (17)
Thanks to mobile phones, users can virtually cross many borders: communicate easily with people from all around the world regardless of physical distance or even languages barriers, share ideas with individuals from different cultures and religions, build multicultural environments.
Smartphones also assist with setting an example for developing countries and economies, giving opportunities and equal rights to everybody regardless of cultural and financial backgrounds.
Mobile phones with all their assets – easy internet access, camera and apps are a great weapon when it comes to fight injustice, dictatorship and violence. In the end, it is smartphones that arguably make our lives easier, better and longer. Mobile obviously isn’t an answer to all of our problems, but it is definitely a good start point to get them all sorted out.
“ It’s not machines that are taking over. It’s that they’re helping us to be more human”
Amber Case, Cyborg Anthropologist at TEDWomen