Uber’s lawsuit against Bidmotion/Hydrane and up to 100 John Doe ad networks for fraudulent app installs is still wending its way through the court system here in San Francisco. The court documents are fascinating because Uber is suing the ad networks and exchanges that ran their media. As analyst Dr Augustine Fou says, “This is utterly significant because this raises the risk for ad exchanges that look the other way regarding ad fraud or actively participate in ‘non-transparent’ activities.”

Long story short, Uber contracted for app installs on a Per-Per-Install basis, and also contracted with Tune to track where the installs originated. However, even though it was specified in the IOs that the networks had to pass data to Tune, and even though Tune has fraud detection systems in place, Uber contends that the campaign suffered from “pervasive fraud.”

This was not a small campaign:

Just before Uber suspended the entire Uber Campaign in March 2017, which included payments to Defendants, Uber was spending millions of dollars per week on mobile inventory purportedly attributable to hundreds of thousands (even millions) of Uber App installs per week.”

The giveaway that many of the installs were fake? They stopped the campagn and as expected the number of installs attributed to mobile ads dropped significantly, but the number of organic installs rose by an almost equal amount. The heart of Uber’s case is that the defendants were simply stealing organic installations by fraudulently reporting the last-click attribution.

More allegations:

“Defendants knew that a substantial portion of the mobile inventory they sold to Uber .. was nonexistent, nonviewable and/or fraudulent, and that such inventory was not attributable to legitimate riders installing the Uber App,”


“Defendants actively concealed nonexistent, nonviewable, and/or fraudulent inventory and prevented Uber from uncovering the true facts, for example, by hardcoding misleading names into TUNE to deceive Uber into believing installs were driven by ads on approved sites.”

Now allegations are not proof, of course, and we have no direct knowledge of anything other than select quotes from the documents, but this illustrates a couple of important points for the performance marketing industry:

  1. You have to be able to trust your network. Reputation and longevity count for a great deal, as does their Blue Book ranking;
  2. Achieving and proving incrementality – the ability of performance marketing to make additional sales and not just cannibalize existing channels – is key to the growth of the industry in the medium term (and coincidentally, mThink’s consultancy division has solutions for exactly this. Hit us up if you want to know more).

Dr Fou tweets under the handle Ad Fraud Historian (@acfou) and is well worth a follow. More on the above case and links to the court documents here.