Be vigilant about what you read on the Net – Examples from Financial Times

In this post, I’ll show you two specific examples of how even a famous outlet such as the Financial Times (FT) deploys misleading/wrong headlines and ambiguous data to draw viewership and why you need to be vigilant about what is on the Internet.

First Article – Apple’s privacy changes create windfall for its own advertising business

Last month, FT put out an article named “Apple’s privacy changes create windfall for its own advertising business“, which alleged that Apple successfully tripled their ads business significantly with the introduction of their own ads platform and self-serving security policies. To back up their thesis, FT used data from Branch, a mobile marketing consultancy firm. While it all sounds logical, there are a lot of holes in their argument. First, while FT referenced Branch and their work, there is no link to the source study or research. I actually went to Branch’s website, but couldn’t find anything that remotely looked like what FT might have used. If the entire article is based on data from one source, it’s very important to understand what raw data goes into the source. We have none of that here.

Second, the charts are misleading and ambiguous.

The left chart is meant to illustrate how app downloads linked to Search Ads allegedly increased substantially in the past 10 months. What bugs me about it are 1/ how do we know the increase is solely due to Apple’s favoring its own tool? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt that Apple wants to grow its ads business and actually did as they disclosed in their latest SEC filings. But there is never official data on this subject and there are factors that can affect the accuracy of the chart: seasonality, some freak events, more brands actually using Search Ads regardless, etc. ; 2/ The chart on the right shows that Apple almost doubled its share of total installs from Nov 2020 to Jul 2021. Yet, the chart on the left showed that it increased only by 30%. Why is there a difference? How should I understand the discrepancy between the two?

More importantly, the chart on the right only concerns ads that promote app downloads in iOS. That market is small compared to the overall mobile market. In addition, total installs don’t equal revenue. Facebook, because of its scale, could very well earn more than what Apple did because of higher pricing. Another question I have is: what markets does this data concern? Is it only the U.S or is it global? Yet FT had no problem asserting that Apple tripled its share of mobile app advertising in 6 months.

Second Article – Snap, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube lose nearly $10bn after iPhone privacy changes

Two weeks after the first article went live, FT followed with another attack on Apple, asserting that iPhone privacy changes cost other advertisers nearly $10 billion in revenue. The error pattern is repeated in this article. It uses logic and data from another mobile marketing consultancy firm, Lotame, without providing a link reference or explanation of how these assumptions were made. Similar to the first case, I couldn’t find any source research on Lotame’s website either. The ambiguity regarding the data becomes even more alarming when you dig into the detail. To arrive at the $10 billion figure, FT calculates the expected Q3 and Q4 2021 revenue and applies their assumed impact on revenue, as you can see below.

I was shocked when I saw these two charts. First of all, none of the companies Facebook, YouTube, Snap or Twitter confirmed the exact impact on revenue by iOS privacy changes. 13.2% impact isn’t modest. It’s material enough and in the case of Facebook, it is a huge revenue loss. Hence, Because Facebook’s management itself didn’t disclose any concrete figures, how do we know that Lotame or FT’s assumption is correct? Secondly, FT had no problem adding the word “Expected” to their revenue projection of these firms. That’s fair and good. That begs the question: Q4 doesn’t conclude yet, then how can they say with such conviction that iOS privacy changes cost these firms $10 billion? Said another way, I’d be happier if FT either added the word “expected” to the headline (Snap, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube ARE EXPECTED to lose nearly $10bn after iPhone privacy changes) or only used Q3 data in their assumption. In that case, it wouldn’t be $10 billion any more and would likely attract far fewer readers.

Summary

In short, I am very disappointed at FT with these two articles. They were seemingly written and published to take advantage of the angst that some loud developers have towards Apple. They sourced data from mobile marketing agencies without providing context, original materials or raw data. To provide a methodology is a very standard practice in every research. Why didn’t FT in these two cases? It’s also important to note that the two ads agencies referenced by FT have every incentive to attack Apple because these iOS privacy changes hurt their business which relies on 3rd party data and surveillance tracking. Without knowing their methodologies, how can we trust that their data is objective? I mean, FT accused Apple of acting on their own interests. Then, how do we know that these ads agencies aren’t doing the exact same thing? But that’s not the worst “misdemeanor” I see here. It’s the way headlines were inaccurately conjured and data was ambiguously presented.

Stay as vigilant as you can out there!