Are all attribution companies unbiased and independent as they claim?

By Oren Kaniel
uncovering unbiased attribution

When we started AppsFlyer back in 2011, marketing and advertising was completely new to us. I got my first iPhone back in 2010 and very quickly realized that this device is going to ignite a radical change in our lives.

Then I noticed that app developers couldn’t measure where their users were coming from. It was (and still is) the new gold rush, where spray and pray was a legitimate ‘strategy’, especially since there was no technology that enabled mobile app marketers to measure their activities.

display luma scape

I still remember my reaction when I came across the display advertising LUMA slide (see image above). What I saw was quite clearly a wild west of companies, and I couldn’t understand the value each was providing.

More importantly, I wasn’t clear on who was representing whose interests. I was convinced that measurement was a must, but I couldn’t really understand where and how it would fit in these different logo groupings.

I decided to start by focusing on one side of the market and build superior technology, product and service that would represent marketers. I believed that if we had a clear mission, without any internal conflicts of interest, we could gain a strong degree of trust, that would allow us to have an open and transparent dialog with customers.

I knew that this approach would allow us to deliver significant value to marketers and to the entire ecosystem.

Indeed, at AppsFlyer, ‘unbiased’ and ‘independent’ are not just words we push into our sales and marketing materials. They are a critical and core part of our company’s DNA. When we state that our mission is to make our clients successful, it is so, simply because we don’t have conflicting interests with any of our stakeholders.

Can you imagine buying real estate property without a lawyer to represent you and your interests? How about trusting the sellers’ word or their lawyers? Of course not! So why is it that, that self-proclaimed ‘unbiased’ attribution companies that measure billions of dollars of ad spend get away with it?

I think the answer to that question is clear: a lack of knowledge and transparency in the market is to blame, and this is what this post aims to open up.

There are five fundamental points to understanding what it means to be unbiased and independent in the attribution business:

1. Playing both sides – having both advertisers and publishers/ad-networks as clients

Some attribution providers have products that are separately sold to ad networks that represent a significant portion of their revenue. To make matters worse, some sell their clients’ data to anyone who wants to buy it. If you don’t know how your attribution provider makes money and who their clients are, there’s a good chance that you’re the product.

AppsFlyer statement: On Day 1, we chose a side and decided that the advertisers – and only the advertisers – are going to be our clients. We neither sell anything to ad networks, nor do we have any financial relationship with our integrated media partners whatsoever. As the attribution authority, this is especially crucial as we plan to further regulate the AppsFlyer ecosystem, and remove fraudulent actors from our platform to protect our clients.

We believe that our transparent approach not only created trust with our clients, but also with our partners and the market at large. After all, ad networks don’t want to be discriminated by an attribution platform because they selected not to buy its products or services. They also don’t want to be pushed to buy services or products in order to get ‘special treatment’.

2. Selling data

There is no doubt that for most companies, data is their most important asset. Would you give a competitor your paying clients’ contact information? It sounds crazy, but this is the reality! Does your attribution ‘partner’ sell data for a living? Not a week goes by without an email landing in our inboxes from someone who is interested in buying (our clients’) data. This can be very tempting when you don’t have investors and you need to focus on revenue to finance your operations. It is precisely why we raised a significant round of funding to ensure that we are not tempted to do anything that might negatively affect our clients. Instead, we have the peace of mind to focus entirely on delivering value to our clients.

When your attribution ‘partner’ sells data, it puts everything your company does at risk. By doing so, they have a significant conflict of interest and it is possible that they are abusing your trust to create an unfair advantage by playing on both ends.

AppsFlyer statement: We do not and will not sell our clients’ data. Period.

3. Independent

Independent means we have the freedom to do what’s needed to make our clients successful without any conflicts of interest. Attribution providers cannot be independent when they sell media, services or products to ad networks. Specifically, the attribution provider’s founders and senior executives can’t invest in privately held media companies. If they do, there is not only a conflict of interest between the company and its clients, but also between its founders/executives, the company itself, its employees and other shareholders.

AppsFlyer statement: We will continue to do whatever it takes to remain independent. We do not and will never sell data or media. We do not and will never sell products or services that can negatively impact our clients’ interests. AppsFlyer’s founders and executives will not invest in-privately held media companies. Specifically, we will never provide any special treatment to any of our partners for any reason.

4. Investors and shareholders

In the last several years we have been approached by many investors. Some of them had an interest in market data or our clients’ data, while others were players in the media side of the business. Accepting them as investors could have endangered our unbiased positioning. It was therefore paramount for us to receive funding only from financial investors of the magnitude of Fidelity, Goldman Sachs and other top VCs. Our investors and board of directors are fully transparent and available to all to view.

Do you know who your attribution partner’s investors, shareholders and board of directors are? Do you really know what their long term interests are? Are you going to trust these vendors with your number one asset – your data?

AppsFlyer statement: We will continue to reject investors that can endanger our unbiased positioning in the market. In every decision we’ll make, we’ll continue to have our clients’ best interests in mind. We will never engage in any activity that could negatively impact our clients.

5. Can a biased attribution platform [truly] fight mobile ad fraud?

The answer is a resounding ‘No’. When an attribution provider has financial relationships with privately held media companies, their anti-fraud offering is flawed. Their inherent conflict of interest simply does not go hand in hand with a genuine effort to truly clamp down on fraud rather than just talk about it. After all, do you really think that biased attribution providers would battle and even remove fraudsters who are also their paying customers from their platform? I don’t think so. Check out my previous post for more on this subject: How Market Leadership Can Solve the Fraud ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’.

AppsFlyer statement: We will continue to invest heavily in our anti-fraud technology and reject any bad traffic that we encounter regardless of its source. We will also ensure that our media partners do the same. By taking action and raising the standards, we are committed to creating a sustainable win/win scenario for our clients, our integrated media partners, and the industry.

To sum up, selecting an attribution provider is one of the most important decisions for most companies. By selecting AppsFlyer as your attribution partner, you have the peace of mind that the company has successfully undergone a recent rigorous due diligence process led by Goldman Sachs, Fidelity and Deutsche Telekom. The process included a deep-dive into competitive analysis, product, tech, vision and last but not least mission. Indeed, we are on a mission to do whatever it takes to make our clients successful. It’s our DNA.

Check out my next post in the ‘AppsFlyer Story’ series, on Organically Building a Customer-Obsessed Culture.

Oren Kaniel signature

Oren Kaniel

Oren Kaniel is co-founder and CEO of AppsFlyer. He loves everything mobile and is a creative thinker, listener, talker, and is trying to be a blogger. Oren holds a BA in Computer Science, Cum Laude, from the Technion, and an MBA from IDC, as part of an exchange with the Wharton Business School.

Follow Oren Kaniel

Ready to start making good choices?