Apple Aims to Protect Data Privacy with SKAdNetwork

Wondering what Apple’s new privacy enhancements mean for you?
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Quietly rolled out by Apple on March 29th, 2018 with their iOS 11.3 release, SKAdNetwork is an API that validates advertiser-driven mobile app installs. In Apple’s documentation, it’s stated that SKAdNetwork’s objective is to help marketers to measure the success of an ad campaign while maintaining user privacy.

What’s different about the SKAdNetwork API?

SKAdNetwork is a class that belongs to the StoreKit framework; Apple’s In-App Purchase Payment System that manages transactions for In-App Purchases. After installing the app, Apple shares only 5 items with the advertiser: ad network ID, transaction identification, ad campaign ID, app ID installed, and attribution code to link all.

Source: Apple Developer Documentation

There are two key postbacks associated with SKAdNetwork:

  • Initiating Install Validation: This Informs an ad network when users install and launch an app after viewing an ad. Ad networks initiate validation by providing signed information, including a campaign ID, when displaying the ad. Later, if the ad results in a conversion, Apple notifies the ad network with a postback that includes the same campaign ID.
  • Verifying an Ad Conversion: When a user installs and launches an app as a result of your ad, you receive a postback request that validates the installation. The request is sent to the ad network URL provided in registration.

What does this mean for advertisers?

It’s still too early to predict how SKAdNetwork will play out. Adding to the mystery, Apple has been very hush-hush about their motives and the rollout of SKAdNetwork. However, we think there are a few possible ways this could play out:

1. Apple doesn’t actively push SKAdNetwork, it doesn’t garner significant adoption, and nothing changes in the mobile marketing space.

One possible scenario could be that Apple doesn’t actively push SKAdNetwork to advertisers, resulting in minimal adoption. In this scenario, there wouldn’t be any significant change in the way that app marketers manage their attribution.

2. Apple pushes SKAdNetwork and Google follows suit with their own version.

Another scenario is that Google follows suit with its own version of the ad network API. This scenario could play out a few different ways:

  • Apple and Google don’t build out a robust attribution solution, which results in a lack of adoption by app marketers. Apple has made its mark in the world thanks to being an extraordinary and innovative hardware company, but they have never been accountable for providing analytics and insights to app marketers. If Apple and Google do not develop all the features that are necessary for an end-to-end attribution solution, (e.g. data extraction, all postback types, flexible attribution windows, easy BI integrations) then the industry will not adopt their solutions.
  • Apple and Google develop all the functionality needed for a robust attribution solution, leaving third-party mobile app attribution providers to potentially die-off in their current form. Who can compete with the operators of the mobile app stores we attribute from anyway? However, advertisers may still lose out in this scenario because they might encounter more complexities coming from running attribution on two separate platforms. The winners in this scenario would be third-party mobile app attribution providers that offer value-added services such as connecting multiple networks into a single view and aggregating all necessary features into a single API.

3. Apple pushes SKAdNetwork but Google does nothing.

In a third possible scenario, Apple could actively push SKAdnetwork to advertisers, while Google doesn’t follow suit with their own version. This would still result in complexities for advertisers who would need to manage attribution programs in silos across different OSs.

In this scenario, marketers would turn to attribution providers who could help them gather data from multiple sources, standardize it, and aggregate it into a single ROI dashboard.

So what’s going to happen?

It’s unfortunately too early to say, but one thing is clear: Apple wants to enhance users’ privacy. Apple has clearly positioned itself as a top privacy-conscious company and will continue to hold this stance as data privacy becomes more top-of-mind in the industry.

Frequently asked questions about the GDPR

The European Union General Data Protection Regulation — GDPR is top of mind for many businesses, especially for those that engage in online advertising. This new privacy-driven regulation requires that all companies collecting, accessing, and processing personal data for EU residents must comply with new standards that will be enforced starting May 25, 2018.

Understandably, we’ve been getting many questions related to the GDPR over the past few months. To help shed light on the questions you may have, we’ve compiled the top FAQs for the GDPR.

General GDPR FAQs

1. When is the GDPR coming into effect?
May 25th, 2018.

2. Who does the GDPR affect?
It applies to all companies processing and holding the personal data of European Union residents, regardless of the company’s location.

3. What constitutes personal data?
Any information that can be used to directly or indirectly identify a user. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, device IDs, or a computer IP address.

4. What are the penalties for non-compliance?
Organizations can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover for breaching GDPR or €20 Million. This is the maximum fine that can be imposed for the most serious infringements (i.e. not having sufficient customer consent to process data or violating the core of Privacy by Design concepts). There is a tiered approach to fines; a company can be fined 2% for not having their records in order (article 28), not notifying the supervising authority and user about a breach or not conducting an impact assessment. It is important to note that these rules apply to both controllers and processors — meaning ‘clouds’ will not be exempt from GDPR enforcement.

5. What is the difference between a data processor and a data controller?
A controller is an entity that determines the purposes, conditions, and means of the processing of personal data, while the processor is an entity which processes personal data on behalf of the controller.

6. Do data processors need ‘explicit’ or ‘unambiguous’ data subject consent – and what is the difference?
Consent must be clear, unambiguous, and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it. Explicit consent is required only for processing sensitive personal data – in this context, nothing short of “opt-in” will suffice. However, for non-sensitive data, “unambiguous” consent will suffice.

7. What about users under the age of 16?
Parental consent will be required to process the personal data of children under the age of 16 for online services; member nations may legislate for a lower age of consent but this will not be below the age of 13.

8. Does my business need to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO)?
DPOs must be appointed in the case of (a) public authorities, (b) organizations that engage in large-scale systematic monitoring, or (c) organizations that engage in the large-scale processing of sensitive personal data (Art. 37). If your organization doesn’t fall into one of these categories, then you do not need to appoint a DPO.

9. How does the GDPR impact policy surrounding data breaches?
Proposed regulations surrounding data breaches primarily relate to the notification policies of companies that have been breached. Data breaches which may pose a risk to individuals must be notified to the Data Processing Addendum (DPA) within 72 hours and to affected individuals without undue delay.

10. Will the GDPR set up a one-stop-shop for data privacy regulation?
The discussions surrounding the one-stop-shop principle are among the most highly debated and are still unclear as the standing positions are highly varied. The Commission text has a fairly simple and concise ruling in favor of the principle, the Parliament also promotes a lead DPA and adds more involvement from other concerned DPAs, the Council’s view waters down the ability of the lead DPA even further. A more in-depth analysis of the one-stop-shop policy debate can be found here.


GDPR FAQS for Singular Users

1. Is Singular a Data Processor or Data Controller?
Singular is a Data Processor — we do not determine the purposes, conditions or scope of how data is collected. You, our customer, who will often determine these will be defined as a Data Controller under the GDPR, but you should consult with your legal team to make such a determination.

2. What data does Singular collect and is it affected by the GDPR?
When using Singular for mobile attribution, Singular will track device data such as advertising IDs, IP addresses, and other device identifiers. We may also collect user-level events that advertisers send us through the Singular SDK. Under the GDPR, all of the aforementioned data is deemed as personal data and will be treated appropriately per regulations set by the GDPR.

3. How does Singular use personal data?
We use the personal data identified above for two purposes: a) to determine the attributed network, campaign, etc. b) provide our customers with analytics and reports based on the data we collect for them such as retention, ROI, etc.

4. Does Singular transfer this personal data anywhere?
By nature of providing mobile attribution, we need to report attributed installs and events to the marketing channels you’re running with, per the agreement you, the advertiser, has with these marketing channels. As a Data Controller, you are always aware of what data Singular sends to said marketing channels, and can be assured that Singular will never share your data with any other entity.

5. What are common GDPR-related requests that advertisers may get from users?
Under the GDPR, data subjects have several rights that need to be honored:

  • Right to Access and Right to Data Portability – both of these rights speak to the user’s (data subject) ability to request all data that has been collected on them in an easily readable format.
  • Right to Erasure speaks to the user’s ability to ask for their data to be deleted and is also commonly referred to as Right to be Forgotten.
  • Right to Rectification speaks to the user’s ability to request for their data to be corrected or completed.

6. How does Singular allow Data Controllers to honor such requests?
To easily comply with requests related to the GDPR, we’ve built several new REST API endpoints to accept requests in a programmatic and scalable manner. The API documentation is provided in our Developers Portal.

7. Are you compatible with the OpenGDPR initiative?
Yes. We are fully compatible with OpenGDPR.

8. Is Singular’s SDK GDPR-compatible?
Yes, Singular’s SDK is GDPR compatible. We are also releasing an additional update soon to further support explicit methods for opt-in (for when a consent is explicitly provided), opt-out and unload options in the SDK to give you more control for user privacy.

9. I’m not using Singular for attribution or event tracking. Does GDPR apply here?
If Singular doesn’t collect personal (user level) data for your mobile app users, it is not technically a Data Processor in the GDPR context.

10. Do you have an updated Data Processing Agreement I can sign?
Yes, please reach out to your Customer Success Manager to get our latest DPA.

11. What else is Singular doing around the GDPR?
Built by security experts, Singular has always been security and privacy driven by design. We treat encryption, security, and privacy as core principles that determine how every new system is defined and built, and these are inherently embedded in the platform.

At Singular we welcome the EU’s initiative for increased transparency, ownership, and trust around personal data processing activity. We remain committed to these principles when working with our customers as their data processor. As such, we have made extensive investments to ensure that both Singular and our customers meet GDPR compliance standards, which you can read more about in our article “Hello GDPR: Stay Compliant with Singular”.

Disclaimer: The information provided by Singular is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Please contact your attorney to obtain advice on specific issues or questions.

The different faces of mobile ad fraud

Digital ad fraud is estimated to have cost US marketers $6.5 billion in 2017 (Marketing Week 2017). Fraud prevention is not only a nice to have but a necessity nowadays.

Ad fraud is when an individual or group attempts to defraud advertisers, publishers or supply partners, by exploiting advertising technology with the objective of stealing from advertising budgets. It is particularly challenging for marketers to deal with because it comes in variable forms and it has the capacity to evolve and bypass the latest prevention methods.

Today, there are two forms of fraud in particular that app marketers are grappling with: Fake Users and Attribution Manipulation.

Fake Users

Fraudsters use bots, malware and install farms to emulate clicks, installs, and in-app events, causing advertisers to pay for an activity that is not completed by a real user.

Fake User fraud is most commonly perpetrated via:

Install farms, which consist of humans who are paid to manually install and engage with apps across a large number of devices.

Mobile device emulators that simulate a large number of unique device IDs used in fake installs.

Data centers that host scripts to generate fake installs and other types of events at massive scale.

Proxy servers that are used to reset IP addresses and spoof device-level information (like location, to emulate installs in other countries)

Attribution Manipulation

Fraudsters steal credit for installs by sending fraudulent clicks, which results in attribution systems recording sent clicks as the last engagement prior to the first time an app is opened, thus assigning credit to the fraudulent source and removing credit from an app’s organic or paid sources.

Attribution manipulation is a particularly harmful form of fraud because it not only costs marketers their spend, but it also corrupts performance data, causing marketers to make misguided acquisition decisions.

For example, the damage inflicted by a fraudulent source poaching organic users is twofold: an event reduces the number of organic users in a marketer’s analytics, as well as the perceived impact of organic user traffic on revenue growth. This can cause organizations to shift marketing away from efforts that target organic acquisition such as ASO or content marketing. Additionally, this can make a marketer invest more money in the fraudulent source, thereby diverting spend away from high-performing channels that drive legitimate traffic.

Attribution Manipulation is most commonly perpetrated via:

Click Injection

When fraudsters create apps that are legitimately downloaded by a user but, unbeknownst to the user, monitor the user’s device for installs and insert fake clicks before an app is first opened.

Click Spamming

This occurs when fraudsters send large numbers of fraudulent click reports with real device IDs in an attempt to poach organic users by delivering the last engagement prior to an install. Because attribution windows are typically limited to finite time periods, fraudsters often re-send fraudulent click reports in order to maintain their clicks as the last engagements within the attribution window.

While click injection is focused on sending clicks at the moment immediately before an app is first opened, click spamming is focused on sending clicks that contain a unique device ID in the hope that an ID matches that of an organic user who subsequently downloads the app. Compared to click spamming, click injection is a more sophisticated form of fraud that is easier for fraudsters to control and to hide. Because click injection receives signals that an app has been installed directly from a user’s device, click injection attacks are more targeted and therefore deliver better results for fraudsters.

Thankfully there are indicators to detect such scenarios. Since click injection generates a click after installation is complete, it tends to result in a short click-to-install time. Click spamming, on the other hand, results in abnormally long click install time, due to clicks lingering in the attribution system until a device with a matching ID organically installs the app. TTI analysis is one of the leading mechanisms to fight attribution manipulation and fraud in general.

Other forms of Attribution Manipulation also exist, including:

Network Click Fraud

Networks that report a click when only an impression occurred.

Fingerprinting Fraud

A technique that targets organic users for fraudsters to send clicks with no advertising IDs, causing attribution systems to fall back on fingerprinting — which relies on identifiers like IP address, device model, and OS version — to perform attribution. If an organic user on the same network installs the app, and other identifiers match up, the fraudulent source steals credit for the install from the organic source.

More info

Want to get the full scoop on mobile ad fraud prevention, including a list of the most secure ad networks for app marketers, and the most effective fraud prevention methods?

Check out the Singular Fraud Index; the first of its kind to utilize mobile fraud data collected from multiple attribution providers and fraud prevention tools.

Marketers are thinking about mobile attribution completely wrong

Why Singular is creating the new marketing data standard for mobile attribution

Since launching Singular 4 years ago, we’ve worked with some of the largest mobile apps, along with an expansive set of mobile marketing solutions to become the de-facto Marketing Data Platform. Singular provides a single source of truth for marketing campaign performance by merging three core datasets that historically existed in silos:

  1. Media sources:
    Ad spend, campaign information, creative performance, targeting options
  2. Attribution:
    Clicks, attributed app installs, tracking links, postbacks
  3. BI:
    Customer profiles, post-install events, predictive LTV, cross-platform revenue

We developed a technology unlike any in existence — instead of building another stand alone marketing solution (advertising channel, email service, re-engagement tool, etc.) — Singular built a platform that could connect data across all the different siloed solutions in the marketing stack, standardize it, and make it actionable for mobile marketers. Using Singular, the leading marketers easily get the analytics and insights they need to maximize ROI across their mobile campaigns.

While we initially set out to collect and connect every piece of marketing and attribution data in a single platform, customers were still challenged with combining these datasets together. We recognized that there are two very different types of data that marketers needed: certain data is only available in aggregate (i.e. ad spend), while other datasets are aggregated from user level data (i.e. app install attribution). Combining these is like trying to assemble a puzzle with pieces from different sets. It simply doesn’t work… the pieces are not built to fit together.

Today we want to talk about a mistreated piece of the marketing stack: Mobile Attribution.

We’ve witnessed an odd approach to Mobile Attribution throughout the years. Legacy mobile attribution providers defined this market in a silo with no understanding of how media sources actually deliver campaigns. While attribution providers built their products to gather the bare minimum data needed to attribute an app install, media sources have infinitely outpaced them in complexity and depth with campaigns using enhanced targeting and multiple variations of creatives. Instead of matching the sophistication of the sources to provide marketers with more insights to optimize on, legacy attribution providers focused on one-upping the other with marketing jargon-filled features lists and a race to be the cheapest solution out there.

The irony here, is this siloed approach to mobile attribution is the #1 reason massive gaps exist in datasets today, making it nearly impossible for marketers to trace the customer journey. We’ve often been asked to solve for these gaps within Singular, but there was nothing we could do since the problem originates with the way legacy attribution platforms were built. So in 2017, we decided to kill the status quo.

Mid last year, we came across an opportunity to acquire Apsalar, an established mobile attribution provider and an exclusive Mobile Measurement Partner of Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Twitter and Pinterest. This was a big and bold decision, but we had solid conviction that we needed to own the Mobile Attribution piece of the puzzle to fill the drastic data holes that had become standard for app marketers.

So how does our approach actually solve the data challenge?

1: We did not pursue “sufficient” attribution functionality or just reach industry parity – we built the best attribution product in existence, by any objective measure.

Recognizing Attribution as critical infrastructure, we utilized learnings from the entire mobile attribution ecosystem to build the industry’s best of breed attribution stack from the ground up. Just imagine if the legacy attribution providers could rebuild their platforms with today’s knowledge of partner integrations, fraud, data privacy regulations, real-time data processing, and data warehousing.

2: We’ve given marketers a dataset that is entirely complete, accurate and extremely granular spanning all of the tools and sources in their marketing stack.

We built attribution natively into Singular’s larger data platform, rather than patching in another siloed attribution stack. Using the knowledge acquired over 4 years of mapping the ecosystem to understand every datapoint reported by every source (and how to standardize it), we built Singular’s attribution to fit all of our proven workflows and data connectors.

3: We redefined how businesses consume marketing data.

Where previously BI teams struggled to assemble different datasets sourced from various APIs, exports and postbacks, we invented new streamlined APIs for easy access to all marketing data. Once-challenging BI projects are now completely trivial.

4: We provide a team of business strategists to help scale marketing in the best way possible.

In accordance with the Singular philosophy, we’ve focused on the customer experience. We provide 24/7 global support, in-region customer success teams and continued improvements on the product based on feedback.

And what can we provide that a siloed mobile attribution provider can’t?

Our customers now have unparalleled control over their data, standardized marketing and attribution datasets, the analytics on their marketing campaign performance at the most granular levels, the tools to further analyze this data in their own BI and most importantly, the ability to construct the full customer journey.

I’m proud to say our decision to create a new standard, the “Singular Standard,” for complete marketing data was one of the most important and successful decisions we’ve made in Singular’s history. Companies like Rovio, LinkedIn, Sam’s Club, N3TWORK, are among the pioneers of the future marketing stack, and they are being joined by the masses every quarter.

In fact, I’ll let the number speak for themselves:

If you’re ready to remove the data deficit in your stack caused by legacy attribution providers and bring on an innovative approach, we would be happy to talk to you.


iOS 10 & Mobile App Attribution: What You Need to Know

The upcoming iOS 10 launch brings with it exciting new opportunities for app developers and publishers. It also requires that app attribution providers like Singular be prepared to continue to attribute installs and other events on Apple devices. Singular has worked with Apple and other major industry stakeholders for years. We strive to ensure that our clients are ready for updates that may affect mobile app attribution and event measurement. iOS is a leading software platform for mobile devices, so it is absolutely critical that we are ready for the launch.

Rest assured that we are prepared for the latest update. Here are the most important ways that iOS 10 will affect app marketers, and how we have worked to ensure that the transition is incredibly smooth for our clients.

App Store Search Ads

Sponsored search ads are coming to the App Store, and many marketers are anxious to test and implement them. In a recent survey, we asked mobile app marketers from around the world about their level of interest in advertising in sponsored search results in the App Store and Google Play, and the response was very strong.

Singular clients can be assured that they will be able to track and attribute installs driven by the App Store using Singular Attribution.  The App Store will be treated as an additional source in our reporting, so you will be able to measure performance just as you would other traffic and install sources.

Changes to “Limit Ad Tracking” and Attribution

For some time Apple has offered a limit ad tracking feature intended to stop brands from collecting and using behavioral data in order to define targeting and messaging. With iOS 9, brands were directed NOT to collect or store advertising IDs (IDFAs) when users opted out of ad tracking. With iOS 10, Apple replaces the IDFA with a series of zeros if a user opts-out of tracking.

While mobile app attribution is unrelated to interest-based data collection, this new approach to masking the IDFA changes the way that attribution providers can track devices that are opted-out.

Singular is prepared for this change, and will continue to be able to track attributions on masked IDFA devices. We have been working closely with leading networks and publishers to ensure that we have an effective way of tracking and attributing installs to devices that have Limit Ad Tracking turned on.

In the event that a device has a masked IDFA, our platform will automatically switch to our renowned device fingerprinting methodology. In this way we will use the deterministic method of attributing to IDFA when those IDs are available, and an effective probabilistic method for devices where IDs are masked. The solution respects user privacy with regard to user interest tracking while ensuring that marketers have the essential data necessary to measure and optimize their campaigns.

Download The Singular ROI Index to see the world’s first ranking of ad networks by app ROI.