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Facebook upends app tracking in reaction to privacy concerns

Facebook?s decision to cut out two mobile advertising partners yesterday may have little impact in the long-term for marketers, but could leave brands scrambling to find a quick-fix application tracking option.

Yesterday, Facebook cut HasOffers and Kontagent from its mobile advertising platform as it was revealed that both companies did not abide by policies when it comes to holding onto consumers? data and concealing consumers about how developers tracked in-app activities. As Facebook looks to build out its mobile business, the news highlights the growing role that the social giant will take in policing its mobile business.

?It doesn?t necessarily show that they?re taking their mobile ad business more seriously, but it does show that they take user privacy very seriously,? said Guillaume Lelait, vice president of North America at Fetch, San Francisco.

Collecting data
In a recent privacy audit, it was revealed that both HasOffers and Kontagent did not abide by policies when it comes to holding data and privacy policies.

According to Facebook, both companies held onto consumers? data for extended periods of time.

Additionally, Kontagent and HasOffers did not require app developers to update their privacy policies that require consumers to be notified that their data is being collected.

This information includes an ad?s return on investment, lifetime value and conversion information.

Facebook?s mobile advertising partners only have data tied to an anonymous user ID, but this information could potentially be cross-referenced to open up significant amounts of data to third parties.

Eleven mobile marketing partners remain in Facebook?s mobile advertising measurement program.

Both Kontagent and HasOffers offer developers a way to drop an SDK into their apps to track downloads.

According to Mr. Lelaitthis, a large amount of app developers rely on HasOffers to power their attribution, meaning that marketers will either now scramble to find an alternative or will be forced to use Facebook?s built-in attribution tracking, which does not provide the full amount of data that marketers may want.

Additionally, a previously announced merger between Kontagent and PlayHaven was finalized yesterday that will let marketers and developers manage their mobile apps in one place.

Buckling down on mobile policies
The news also underscores how Facebook is stepping up privacy concerns around its mobile advertising business.

Revenue from mobile hit more than 50 percent for the first time at the company during the fourth-quarter of 2013 (see story).

Mobile app install units have been a particularly big area of focus, with the social giant rolling out retargeting options in October of last year that let brands including Hotel Tonight push consumers to open up an app that is already installed on their device (see story). 

At the same time, Facebook is reportedly rolling out its own mobile ad network that will compete head-on with Twitter, Apple and Google. The mobile ad network potentially cuts out a middleman between agencies and marketers in how they buy Facebook mobile ads to give the social giant more control.

By cutting both Kontagent and HasOffers out, Facebook eyes a bigger role in mobile advertising beyond native placements and in-stream ads.

"It's good to see Facebook rigorously enforcing its terms and conditions,? said Mark Pinsent, social and content lead at Metia, London.

?I guess some might see it ironic that Facebook is taking such severe action over the collection and storing of consumer data, but I don't think this will have a huge impact,? he said.