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Amid rising tides of data privacy, developers & marketers need new SDKs

In an increasingly complex data privacy landscape, app developers and marketers have reduced insight into user-level data, hampering their monetization and advertising strategies. As new regulations come into play, developers and marketers would do well to invest in a diversified mix of SDK integrations, writes MobileFuse founder and chief executive officer Ken Harlan.

As the app ecosystem rapidly expands beyond the borders of mobile, app developers and publishers are hard-pressed to identify secure, economical ways of adopting more Software Development Kits (SDKs). An SDK is a set of software development tools, libraries, code samples, processes and guides that help developers create or enhance the apps they’re building. Specifically relating to digital marketing, SDKs provide unique analytic insights for campaign testing, attribution, location details, monetization and more. Ultimately, SDKs enable marketers to better manage and optimize their digital advertising campaigns and monetization strategies.

As it stands, however, the digital media industry relies too heavily on companies like Facebook and Google — and their respective grip on advertisers and developers exceeds beyond their breadth of data. These tech giants, and a few others, further secure their hold on the market via SDKs.

SDK integrations are a critical component of growth and a strategic tool as we move forward into an era in which both the third-party cookie and Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers is no more. This is because users must opt-in to use specific app or web functions, ensuring insights from SDKs are compliant. But the current market environment doesn't support the broad ingestion of insights, as only a few key players are generally used. Today, 88% of all ad-monetized Android apps are integrated with Google’s Admob SDK. At the same time, the Facebook Audience Network SDK is present in 19% of all global Android apps. Considering the deprecation of cookies and IDFA, the proliferation of these SDKs is a detriment to the continued evolution of in-app marketing.

While companies like Facebook and Google provide useful insights and tools for developers and publishers alike, they’re cementing their status as monopolies, and pushing the notion that they support anti-competitive behavior.

Lay of the land: SDK adoption

While there are many SDKs available on the market today, the unquestionable dominance of Google and Apple is perpetuated by their respective reach and industry notoriety. Another critical component that supports their market position is developers’ lack of resources and time.

The process of maintaining SDKs on a regular basis takes a considerable amount of time, and could actually result in a loss of revenue or the inability to push out key updates. This is because a respective app needs to be updated then resubmitted to each app store, and the approval process takes time. On top of all this, it's fairly common for SDKs to have a quarterly update cadence, making all this work a compounding problem. That said, we can understand the logic behind developers focusing on a few key SDK options that cover a lot of ground, despite the potential for new monetization capabilities.

Meanwhile, brewing in the background is a handful of ongoing antitrust cases involving Google, Facebook and Apple. As these companies come under fire for their policies and practices — and pressure mounts on them to split up their portfolios of subsidiaries — it’s critical that marketers consider how antitrust action will impact their digital marketing programs.

In the event tech titans are forced to separate, the broad insights previously provided won't be as readily available, as silos will eliminate the ability to seamlessly aggregate and analyze user-level data. Compounding this possibility is the ongoing push for consumer safety and data privacy — and Apple’s iOS 14.5 provides a glimpse into a more disparate data-centric era. Facebook made note of this during a recent earnings call, noting regulatory and platform changes as points of contention. New privacy-focused policies fundamentally strongarm developers into looking for new insights — especially if they want to ensure the same level of utility and insights for their apps. Developers can't put all their eggs in one — or even just a few — baskets.

Taking this a step further, App Annie recently found that new app downloads reached 218 billion last year, an increase of 7% in 2020. Additionally, global app store spend grew by 20% last year, totaling $143 billion. In truth, developers and publishers need to be exploring new options and expanding their portfolio of SDK integrations — those who start now will have a competitive advantage. But the path forward needs to be streamlined and secure for developers.

Safety in numbers

With this in mind, quality control and security are areas of critical importance when integrating SDKs. It’s common practice for developer teams to simply trust SDK providers to conduct security and compliance checks. This blind faith is often the result of fatigue, which introduces potential risks that can impact app developers and the end users they serve.

However, we’re increasingly seeing companies incorporate third-party certifications and audits. Reviews by organizations like Snyk and Whitesource typically assess an SDK’s method of storing or transmitting Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and analyze source code to identify potential vulnerabilities. Broader adoption of this process makes it clear what offerings can be trusted, and who is accountable. The trusted entities lay a foundation for a more SDK-agnostic approach, and make it possible for app developers to seamlessly and confidently incorporate SDKs into their projects going forward.

As regulations enter the market that encourage diversification and exploration beyond the traditional digital monoliths, developers and publishers will realize the added value around broader SDK integrations. They’ll be able to maximize their insights and revenue opportunities and better position themselves as we enter a more probabilistic and privacy-centric digital marketing environment.

Ken Harlan is founder and chief executive officer at MobileFuse.

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