Is Twitter Blocking App Install Links?
Yesterday I clicked on a link shared by the @TechSmith Twitter account and was presented with the warning message you see above. I tested this in both the Twitter app for iOS as well as the Twitter experience on the Web.
After doing a quick search for the ad.apps.fm tracking URL used in the tweet, it appears that Twitter is blocking all links that use a tracking URL from mobile advertising analytics provider Flurry, which is where the ad.apps.fm URL originates.
If you make iOS apps and you're attempting to track app installs, this is a disaster. The average Twitter user is likely to see the warning and bail on following the link.
Why is Twitter blocking Flurry links?
Twitter follows the links to their final destination and even displays a Twitter Card for the App Store for links that go to the app install. If you do a search for ad.apps.fm on Twitter, you can see a number of these Twitter Cards in the result.
Here's a screen grab from the since-deleted tweet from the @TechSmith Twitter account showing the Twitter Card. That bit.ly link was redirecting to the Flurry link before ultimately passing the user to the App Store (as the Twitter Card indicates)
Clearly a link that can be followed to the App Store is not a phishing site or a site that is going to download malicious software on to your computer. Maybe you could argue that Flurry is gather intelligence about the user who clicks the link and therefore the link is classified as one of the "spam sites that request personal information," but I don't buy that.
Based on the App Store Twitter Card that gets displayed, it looks like using Flurry links give you the benefit of running an app install campaign on Twitter without paying Twitter for the campaign. In other words, blocking the Flurry links appears like it could be Twitter trying to flex its financial muscle to force app developers into paying for install campaigns.
Nobody wins while Twitter is blocking app install links.
The user loses because Twitter is inaccurately flagging links that go to one of the best vetted destinations on the Web – the iOS App Store. Sure there are plenty of Apps I would never want, but they all passed the fairly rigorous validation process required by Apple. And on top of that, a false-positive warning message has the potential to cause users to ignore all warning messages.
The app developer loses because they are forced to either forgo all the potential users who will shy away from that ominous warning or find a new tracking provider that Twitter hasn't blacklisted.
Even Twitter loses here. The advertising ecosystem needs third-party tracking. If I'm running campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, AdMob, and all the various other mobile advertising platforms, I need to be able to manage all those campaigns in one place. Twitter preventing that third-party tracking will only result in mobile app advertisers spending less money on Twitter.
Twitter could be working with advertisers instead
If I make the assumption that Twitter is blocking Flurry URLs in an attempt to get advertisers to use Twitter download campaigns, it seems like there's a better way to approach the issue. Twitter should be finding a way to add value through their campaigns, not blocking the existing value an app developer gets by using a service like Flurry. For instance, Twitter could pass additional data about the install that can't be gleaned from using a Flurry link. Or maybe Twitter could simply require that promoting a post with a third-party install tracking link requires a specific campaign type.
There are plenty of other links that appear on Twitter that do take the user to potentially harmful destinations. It's unfortunate that Twitter isn't focusing their energy on actually protecting users instead of what appears to be an effort to create a combative relationship with potential advertisers.