The Mobile Conundrum: Mobile Fraud and 3rd Party Ad Tracking

Robot with tools and SDK sign. Technology concept. Isolated over white background

Since the end of 2007, the industry had been preaching “this is the year for mobile”, and after years in the making, we are finally feeling that in the market these days. According to eMarketer projections, 2015 is the year that we could actually break the 50% mark (eMarketer, 2015). What does that mean? It means that over 50% of digital ad spend this year could be spent on mobile.

While the increased shift to mobile has gotten people excited, the need for more advanced tracking is still a major point of concern. If your company is embarking on significant spend in the mobile space any time soon, the tracking question will come up!

But before we dive into this issue and the complex paradigm that exists in the realm of today’s mobile marketer, let’s make sure we understand the basics.

 SDKSDK: Stands for software development kit and is a set of software development tools that for the creation of apps for a specific platform (Wikipedia). Typically an SDK includes one or more APIs, programming tools, and documentation. Typically, to track performance goals like installs, sessions, and in-app events, an SDK needs to be implemented in your app. Engineers generally only want to use (1) single SDK to track across all activities for a variety of reasons, and there are plenty of Mobile App Tracking (MAT) partners available on the market with different pricing models to choose from.

Fraudulent Traffic: Ad fraud in the mobile industry is the deliberate practice of installing apps that have no potential to be used by a human.

The fact of the matter is that mobile marketers today are facing the specter of fraudulent traffic whether they know it or not. It doesn’t matter if your KPI goal is installs, activations, or in-app events, the traffic you are receiving may not actually be human. Even more so, the accountability debate between clients, mobile ad tracking companies, agencies and mobile partners is a major issue, which industry leaders need to come together to create a solution for.

The Mobile Marketer’s Journey to MeasurementMobileMarketerJourney

The example you are seeing above illustrates how convoluted tracing the source of fraudulent mobile traffic is.

So then, who is responsible for reporting the fraudulent activity?

Is it the agency who notifies the client? The mobile partners based on the SDK data? Or is it the SDK partner signaling the fraudulent traffic to the mobile vendors so they can take automatic action?

Much of this can also depend on the type of transparency and relationship that is built between these various parties and the type of data that can be shared.

This somewhat convoluted model is something that as an industry we should be talking about as all of the pieces fit into a large intricate puzzle. The client is paying the agency to achieve marketing goals, and sometimes those marketing goals are purely based off of installs. Mobile partners are paid to run advertising to achieve said goals, but rely on the all-mighty and powerful SDK partner to act as a the unbiased 3rd party to legitimize the installs received from the advertising.

While fraudulent traffic is sometimes unavoidable, there are plenty of solutions out there that can prevent fraud from becoming an issue for your business. In my eyes, if SDK partners wish to remain in their position in the marketplace as the single source of truth, and to continue be the unbiased holistic measurement system for mobile, they should take steps to address this issue and integrate solutions to stop fraudulent mobile traffic into the DNA of their organizations.

At Just Media we are continually testing and optimizing our mobile campaigns across various clients. As you look to 2016 and where mobile fits into your overall marketing strategy, our word of advice is: test, optimize, repeat. Push your mobile boundaries! When looking at your mobile performance and retention, please find a few helpful tips from our expert team to help identify potential fraudulent traffic.

Helpful Hints to Identify Potential Fraudulent Traffic

  • Low click-to-conversion ratio
  • Clicks that originate from outside of the campaign area/have mismatching campaign settings (ex. location)
  • Click traffic that peaks at the same time of day (ex. particularly at unexpected times)
  • Frequent clicks with similar device parameters (ex. from the same IP)
  • High volumes of installs, but low “sessions” (Tune, 2015).

Stefanie O’Connor
Just Media, Inc.


Fraud Prevention in Attribution Analytics. (2015, January 7). Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Mobile to Account for More than Half of Digital Ad Spending in 2015 – See more at: Http:// (2015, September 1). Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Software development kit. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

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