Early Bird makes the norm : Rise of Mobile Ad fraud (2 of 7)

In general, monopoly markets leads to price discrimination. However, it also provides higher profit margin to the market leader which would eventually plowed back into innovation to retain their leadership position. Google exactly did this in desktop/web side of digital ads. They invested adequately in innovations on fraud detection that largely kept fraudsters out of the game. They also invested in products like Chrome (later in Android) to keep their market dominance intact. However, the industry dynamics started changing in 2007 when Apple launched iPhone. The days that followed saw a complete shift in how people consume digital media.

Early Bird makes the norm

In the beginning of the mobile age, Apple being the pioneer in smartphone technology created most of mobile advertisement standards and Google ported and adapted most of their standards. One best example on this could be mobile device Identifiers. Like cookies are there to track a user in the browser, some identifier is required at the mobile device level for traffic attribution, segmentation, and targeting. Initially, Apple used UDID(Unique Device Identifier) as the unique identifier for the device and Google used device ID. In 2013 due to user privacy norms, Apple moved to IDFA (Identifier for Advertising) which gives opt out option for user from ad targeting. Very next year Google just followed suit by introducing GAID(Google advertising ID) which complies with user privacy policy.

When it comes to media consumption pattern on mobile devices, users generally do it through apps. Time spent on mobile browser constitute only 10–15%. So every media company had their own app. Games developers did their share too to become the largest category in terms of numbers in Appstore and Playstore. On top of it, Google’s lenient policies in publishing apps in Playstore, unlike AppStore, leads to astronomical growth in the number of apps in Playstore in short period of time. This situation made app visibility tough for any app developers. Also, the need of getting their app installed in user devices became a herculean task. This phenomenon led app install ads to become a pacesetter for the mobile ads growth and be its most important growth driver.

In the measurement front, Google being a laggard had tried to extend and utilize all their website measurement tools for various mobile ad measurement applications. Mobile attribution being a different ball game, those tools never picked up as expected. This situation created a void in mobile app measurement ecosystem and provided opportunities for new entrants into the market. Many mobile attribution platforms and post install user engagement platforms flourished in the industry. Unlike how Google had the monopoly over all the data in desktop era, many players got a chance to own their share of ads data by providing slight incremental value to advertisers. I would say this ad data proliferation had aided the ease of doing malpractice downstream into the time. We will see to in detail in the later posts.

For app install ad campaigns Google simply adapted its web AdWords and added app install as one of the objectives which target mobile and tablet devices to get the downloads. It didn’t gain expected traction initially. Most importantly it didn’t give the great scale that advertisers demanded. Facebook had adapted much better in the mobile advertising space in the early 2010s providing many mobile-specific options for the advertiser. They also made Facebook SDK integration mandatory for all the apps developers who want to market their app and track campaign efficiency accurately. While Facebook app install campaigns provided slightly better scale than Google, its volume elasticity of price is exponential after certain volume threshold. So it didn’t quench ever growing demand of the app marketers.

With the high demand for app installs ads and top established players not able to cater to it, many players entered the market in the name of “Blind ad networks” who promised scale at a fixed price. Without any proper standard and global governing body in the industry along came notorious fraudsters.

To be continued…


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