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The Ad Tech Drama: Colossus, Adalytics, and Augustine Fou

If you haven’t heard the buzz about Colossus and Adalytics, you’ve likely been hiding under a rock—or perhaps just been too busy doom-scrolling to notice. This soap opera of the ad tech world, where accusations fly, reputations are at stake, and Augustine Fou just dropped a plot twist that would make any telenovela proud, is worth diving into.

Meet Colossus, the enigmatic SSP that seems to have materialized out of thin air. Honestly, I had no idea they were even on the map. Yet here they are, a bona fide player in the ad tech game, focusing on multicultural audiences. Colossus, nestled under the umbrella of Direct Digital Holdings, has been making quite a splash. Trading under the ticker $DRCT, Direct Digital Holdings scooped up Colossus in a strategic move to strengthen their portfolio. And wow, has it paid off—revenue from their SSP has shot up to $112 million with an impressive 13.5% take rate.

Enter Adalytics, the self-proclaimed watchdog of programmatic advertising, whose latest report reads like an indictment. Adalytics claims that Colossus is guilty of nefarious deeds—namely, sending mismatched user IDs to The Trade Desk (TTD), suggesting a fraudulent scheme.

The gist? When Colossus sends data to BidSwitch for auction, the IDs get scrambled, and TTD ends up serving ads to the wrong users. Sounds shady, right? But wait, the plot thickens.

Augustine Fou, the ad tech world’s resident contrarian, swoops in with a hot take that flips the script. According to Fou, this isn’t fraud; it’s just how the tech works. Colossus sends an ID to BidSwitch, which matches it to a TTD ID from its own database, and voilà—the ad gets served. The mismatched IDs that Adalytics flagged are, according to Fou, a normal part of the ad-serving process. He argues that neither Colossus nor BidSwitch can read TTD’s cookies because they’re domain-specific. Fou’s take? Adalytics has it all wrong.

In a drama fit for the small screen, Fou’s defense raises more questions than it answers. How can Adalytics claim fraud when Fou insists it’s just tech behaving as it should? The crux of the issue seems to be cookie synchronization and deletion—mundane terms that suddenly feel laden with intrigue. When cookies get deleted, new IDs are set, and the old ones stick around until everyone catches up. It’s a chaotic dance, but not necessarily a fraudulent one.

This showdown between Adalytics and Colossus has dragged in the big guns, with industry insiders like Ari Paparo weighing in. Paparo, the ad tech world’s lovable salesman extraordinaire, doesn’t buy Fou’s explanation. He points out that these mismatches seem unique to Colossus. If it’s just cookie deletion, why isn’t it happening across the board? Shouldn’t other SSPs be experiencing the same issues if this were a standard industry hiccup? The specificity of the problem with Colossus raises red flags and fuels suspicions that there might be more to this than meets the eye.

But let’s not forget, while Paparo is a fantastic guy with a knack for selling ice to an Eskimo, he’s not exactly the Sherlock Holmes of ad tech intricacies. He’s a bit like me, albeit a bit smarter: he knows the stuff, has worked in the industry, but he doesn’t have a degree in this stuff.  His insights, though valuable, come from a business perspective rather than a technical one — and frankly, as I mentioned, I am a bit in the same boat, having to ask folks what they know, and trust their expertise. This doesn’t really matter though: His skepticism, however, resonates with many in the ad tech community who are already wary of potential shenanigans in an industry rife with trust issues. The mere fact that Colossus seems to be the only SSP (in his opinion) with these mismatches has the community buzzing like a beehive.

Then there is Dr. Fou, (yeah, he is a Doctor in Adtech…) a guy who knows his way around data like nobody’s business, argues that these mismatches are seen with other SSPs too and that the cookie deletion problem isn’t the crux of the issue here. According to him, the discrepancies Adalytics flagged are just normal variations within the ad tech ecosystem, not evidence of foul play. He asserts that Colossus, like any other SSP, is just navigating the complexities of digital advertising, where perfect data synchronization is more myth than reality.

Fou’s defense is simple: the tech is doing exactly what it’s supposed to, even if it looks like a mess on the outside. His explanations suggest that what Adalytics identified as fraud could simply be the ad tech industry’s quirky operational habits. Unlike Paparo, Fou’s arguments are grounded in a deep technical understanding and extensive experience in the field. When Fou dismisses the Adalytics report as a misunderstanding of how the technology is supposed to work, it’s hard not to take him seriously. He’s not just another talking head; he’s a veteran who has been in the trenches and knows the landscape intimately.

Despite Fou’s assurances, the debate rages on, and the industry remains divided. Paparo’s skepticism reflects a broader unease within the ad tech community, highlighting a persistent distrust in the ecosystem’s integrity. If Fou is right, then Adalytics might be crying wolf over a non-issue, perhaps driven by ulterior motives or a fundamental misunderstanding of how the technology works. But if Paparo’s doubts hold water, then Colossus might indeed be engaging in questionable practices. This high-stakes drama continues to unfold, leaving everyone in the ad tech world glued to their seats, eagerly awaiting the next twist in the tale.

So, where does this leave us? Trusting Adalytics to be the knight in shining armor may have been premature. The founder, Krzysztof Franaszek, a computational biology researcher turned ad tech watchdog, built a reputation on uncovering industry dirt. But in this case, his blockbuster report might be more fiction than fact. Unlike seasoned veterans like Augustine Fou, who has deep roots and extensive experience in the ad tech world, Franaszek is a relative newcomer, and his sudden rise to prominence feels a bit too convenient.

The real kicker? Adalytics isn’t just a research company. It’s a one-man show, with Franaszek dropping out of his PhD program to dive into the ad tech abyss. His reports, while headline-grabbing, drive new business to his analytics solution, raising questions about his motives. Is this latest exposé a genuine call-out or a savvy business move? Franaszek, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere, has no substantial background in the ad tech industry. His expertise lies more in the realm of data science and computational biology, not the intricate and often murky waters of digital advertising. We made some assumptions that since he is smart, he is smart about this– and that isn’t necessarily the case always.

Contrast this with Augustine Fou, whose name is synonymous with ad tech scrutiny and fraud detection. Fou’s experience spans decades, and his deep understanding of the industry’s inner workings lends credence to his statements. When Fou dismisses the Adalytics report as a misunderstanding of how the technology is supposed to work, it’s hard not to take him seriously. He told me point blank that the report is just wrong. In the past he’s told me that their reports are accurate, so this isn’t a hard-on for Adalytics. He’s not just another talking head; he’s someone who has been in the trenches and knows the landscape intimately.

Franaszek’s lack of industry experience is a glaring issue. While he may be adept at parsing data and identifying anomalies, understanding the context and operational norms of ad tech is a different ballgame. His findings might be technically accurate but misinterpreted due to a lack of practical experience. This raises the possibility that his sensational reports are not so much revelations of fraud but misunderstandings or misrepresentations of standard industry practices. It’s a critical distinction that could mean the difference between a genuine scandal and a manufactured controversy.

In the end, the Colossus-Adalytics saga leaves us with more questions than answers. Is Colossus a misunderstood giant or a master of deceit? Is Adalytics a beacon of truth or just another player in the game, looking to make a name (and a fortune) for itself? And will Augustine Fou’s contrarian take stand the test of time? Franaszek’s meteoric rise and the subsequent fallout from his reports suggest that in the world of ad tech, not everything is as it seems. Stay tuned, because this ad tech soap opera is far from over.

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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