Facebook Has Given Up On Attribution

Roman Garbar, marketing director, Tenjin

"The Sell Sider" is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today's column is by Roman Garbar, marketing director at Tenjin.

While the eyes of the world were recently locked on the rebranding of Facebook to Meta, something with more immediate and concrete implications for the advertising world was happening.

Facebook, which used to be the king of attribution, is now deferring to Google and Apple as the attribution data sources for Facebook campaigns. The impact of this move will be felt by nearly every mobile advertiser on the planet. 

What happened?

Facebook quietly started using Google Play Install Referrer to pass Android install attribution data. Incredibly, this is available to all developers – regardless of the attribution tools they use – making it effectively free. In fact, Facebook has explained in great detail exactly which data can be transferred in this way and how mobile publishers can utilize this new option.

It’s a big change in direction. Previously, mobile publishers needed to pay certified Facebook Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) to get access to attribution data. No new MMPs have made it into Facebook’s MMP program for almost four years, meaning that it effectively became a walled garden.

Although the Google Play Install Referrer has been around for a long time, Facebook has never prioritized it as a method to transfer advertising data.  

Why now? 

Crucially, Google Play Install Referrer doesn’t involve user data, meaning it’s an ideal solution for the privacy-first marketing landscape.

You might wonder why I’m talking about an Android attribution tool when Facebook’s attribution challenges are happening on iOS. The answer is that Facebook is already deferring to Apple’s SKAdNetwork attribution framework on iOS. By now doung the same on Android –  swap “SKAdNetwork” for “Google Play Install Referrer” – Facebook is demonstrating that it’s throwing in the towel on attribution.

Before Apple rolled out its AppTrackingTransparency framework, Facebook was able to attribute almost all of its users. ATT reduced this to less than 20% and led to the closure of the Facebook Advanced Mobile Measurement (AMM) program because advertisers could no longer receive device ID data (for example, IDFAs) for attributed Facebook installs without an opt-in. This is Facebook’s effort to minimize the risk of leaking user data.

Following the introduction of ATT, Facebook decided to use SKAdNetwork. Previously, it was only possible to get attribution data from MMPs. While MMPs can still be used on iOS, advertisers are now able to access attribution sources themselves and send SKAdNetwork events to feed Facebook optimization algorithms directly.

With Android changes on the horizon and a new Android framework likely coming next year, Facebook is acting ahead of time to accommodate the new reality and leave attribution to natively provided platform frameworks such as SKAdNetwork and Google Play Install Referrer.

In other words, the time of Facebook assigning conversion sources using device IDs is over. Instead, platform attribution data is going to serve as just one of many signals for a new Facebook black box that models conversions by using Facebook’s own signals to add to the conversion numbers reported by attribution frameworks.

What’s the impact? 

Facebook’s deferral to Google and Apple is a smart move, meaning it doesn’t have to constantly rebuild its attribution every time the rules of those ecosystems change. Facebook summarized its change in approach as follows:

"With Apple and Google continuing to make changes via their browsers and operating systems, and with the changing privacy regulatory landscape, it’s important to acknowledge that digital advertising must evolve to become less reliant on individual third-party data.”

But what impact will it have on the rest of the industry? 

There are a lot of open questions about what Facebook’s move means.

  • How many other ad networks will follow Facebook and build something similar to Install Referrer?
  • In the past, Facebook was the trendsetter for ad tech. Will that remain the case or will we have a fragmented marketing landscape?
  • What happens with MMPs? Should they change their core value proposition? Should attribution pricing change? Should it become free?
  • Will advertisers become their own MMPs? They definitely have all the tools, but may lack the will and burning business need to do attribution in-house.

We’ll have to wait and see, but one thing’s for sure – we’re all about to feel the impact.

Though the newly prioritized Google Play Install Referrer is a positive for most advertisers, the mobile ad industry is becoming ever more complex, and one challenge in particular haunts all advertisers.

How can we objectively compare the performance of ad networks when all numbers are modeled and there is no single source of truth?

Follow Tenjin (@tenjinIO) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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