Attest raises $60M to expand its no-code approach to research-surveys-as-a-service, which taps 110M consumers in 49 countries

Surveys have long been used by marketing teams and other business decision makers to learn how customers tick. But they can be costly to put together, hard to run at scale, and, at the end of the day, are only as credible as the data that gets put into them. Today, a London startup called Attest, which has built a cloud-based, no-code, big-data solution that it believes provides an answer to those challenges, is announcing $60 million in growth funding, in the wake of record business growth in the last couple of years.

Jeremy King, the company’s CEO and co-founder, says that its machine learning-based approach is gaining traction against the many incumbent players in the field of online market research — there are hundreds of them ranging from Kantar and SurveyMonkey through to Qualtrics and many more — because it provides faster and more accurate results.

“The dark secret is that most online research has been very low quality,” he said in an interview, noting that if you took the same brief to five traditional market research organizations, you’d likely get five different sets of responses, not unlike taking one building brief to five architects. Attest’s ambition is to move away from that and build a much more consistent, and thus reliable, framework for market research.

“We are trying to make it as good as we can get it. It’s still not perfect but at least we are trying, and most online research frankly doesn’t try at all,” King said. He also described the company’s methodology as ‘suicidally transparent.’ It’s a pitch that indeed does sound pretty honest, and yet it seems to have struck a chord with a lot of big names. Its customer list includes Microsoft, Santander, Walgreens/Boots, Klarna, Brew Dr. Kombucha, Fabletics, eToro and Publicis, among others.

The investment is coming from returning investor NEA and Kismet, along with other unnamed backers, and Attest said that it brings the total it has raised to date to $85 million. Other investors in the company have included Oxford Capital and Episode 1 (which co-led a $3.1 million round in 2019).

Attest is not disclosing its valuation, but PitchBook data reveals that it was just under $273 million post-money in August of this year, when this latest round appears to have actually closed.

As you might expect from a startup working in the world of data, Attest has some pretty compelling data points of its own.

The startup has built out a massive database that is aggregated from hundreds of individual panels, user groups and more, altogether totaling 110 million consumers across 49 countries. Its promise is that any user (no tech expertise required) can create a survey within minutes to target any segment of users that it wants out of that bigger pool and will get responses back in 24 hours if not sooner.

Within those results, Attest guarantees the data in terms of response numbers and integrity using a complex set of algorithms as part of what King described as a 15-step process that starts with formulating questions, sourcing audiences, processing the data and providing it in visualizations that are useful to the person doing the research. It’s priced on a freemium model, where those on paid tiers basically buy credits that are used based on one credit equalling one response per question. These credits work out to ranging in price between 40 cents and 60 cents.

King said that Attest does not rely on paying users, nor placing surveys in access gates, nor building campaigns that run on social media and are built on asking questions that are indirectly mapped on to your demographic (the dreaded ‘Which 1980s Brat Packer are you?’). These, King says, are gateways to low-quality data, since people usually only click on them to get them out of the way. Instead, it relies on those algorithms, which in part are designed to figure out which kinds of audiences are most useful and receptive to answering the questions you are asking. That being said, those building questions can also opt to work with actual humans at Attest if they need help figuring out useful questions.

Surveys and the bigger topic of “consumer engagement” have been something of a hot-button issue in the last several years, not least because of the roles that they potentially play in areas like data collection and how that data ultimately might be tied to a particular user. Some believe that Facebook, as well as other social media companies that have built their business models on engagement, have a lot to answer for in how they build experiences and tweak algorithms to surface more engaging content, irrespective of the quality or nature of the media in question.

King says that what Attest does is a big step removed from all of that: although full of complexity and technology at the back end, at the front end they are more old school and direct, aimed at figuring out, for example, whether Bertolli olive oil should finally come clean and admit it’s not Italian, but in fact Spanish in origin.

In what is estimated to be an $80 billion market, as data becomes more of a support — and in some cases a replacement for — basic intuition in business decision-making, King said the company has seen a growing demand for more surveying on its platform, and that is why investors are interested, too.

“Today’s investment underscores our commitment to Attest and our belief in their stellar team and innovative technology, which is revolutionising access to high quality consumer insights for brands around the world at such an exciting scale,” said Colin Bryant, a partner at NEA, in a statement. “In the current climate, the need to tap into consumer behavior has never been higher, and we’ve seen how Attest has facilitated growth for brands across the pandemic. We foresee the demand for consumer data only getting stronger.”

“Attest is on a trajectory to overtake all incumbents in the market research space, and has its eyes firmly on the largest prizes,” added Asheque Shams, General Partner at Kismet. “We are a startup investment firm with a mission to help fast-growing tech companies reach their greatest potential, so we are immensely excited to partner with Jeremy and team.”

Tiger Global leads $3M round in Zambia’s Union54 for its card-issuing API

Union54, the first Zambian startup backed by Y Combinator, has gotten another major venture capital firm on its term sheet: Tiger Global.

The company confirmed to TechCrunch that the VC juggernaut led its just-completed $3 million seed round, coming only two months after graduating from Y Combinator’s summer batch.

San Francisco-based venture capital firm Runa Capital, Ace & Company, Todd & Rahul Angel Fund and Vibe VC participated.

The Zambian fintech also received checks from angel investors such as Babs Ogundeyi, the CEO of Nigerian neobank Kuda; Risana Zitha, managing director of Renaissance Capital; and Gbenga Ajayi, director of SMB Growth at Wise. 

Union54 is an API that allows African software companies to issue and manage their debit cards without needing a bank or third-party processor.

Co-founders and couple Perseus Mlambo and Alessandra Martini started Union54 this year as a spinoff from their previous company, Zazu, a challenger bank they launched six years ago.

Card issuing is a space that is increasingly becoming regionalized, owing to different regulations per geography. And at Zazu, the founders found it difficult and time-consuming to issue cards to its customers. While working on the problem, they identified the skewed incentives when interacting with card issuers. And they launched Union54 not only to solve that problem for themselves but other fintechs.

Since joining Y Combinator, Zazu has been in stealth mode and only went live this month, CEO Mlambo told TechCrunch.

He added that over 50 companies are currently in Union54’s API sandbox environment. They range from digital banks to post-Series A fintechs and “companies founded on the basis of Union54’s availability.”  

Four companies are currently live in production and have begun issuing virtual cards to their customers. Mlambo says 30 more could join before the end of the year. For these companies, the average time it takes to start production and begin issuance takes three to nine days, said the CEO

Its partners include African unicorn Flutterwave and newer companies such as Payday and Plumter (cross-border fintechs) and crypto exchange platform Bitmama.

So what else has changed since the company spoke to TechCrunch in August? “We’ve realized that there’s such a huge potential for companies who want to monetize their existing customer bases. But we didn’t have a firm idea of how we would do that. Now, we do and we are the only company in Africa to would give you [fintechs] the interchange.”

Essentially, here’s how the interchange works — Union54 onboards a fintech company and it uses Union54’s API to issue a single card to an employee. When the employee uses the card to pay for stuff online, perhaps a Netflix subscription or AWS invoice of $30, the fintech earns 1% of that transaction, in this case, $0.30.

While that might look minute, imagine a fintech that uses Union54’s API to issue cards to more than 20,000 customers who use it frequently. That’s where the Zambian startup hopes to create value: to help fintechs earn significant revenue from interchange without doing a lot of the heavy lifting linked with card management. 

“Not only are we allowing fintechs to go to market faster than any bank or card issuer could ever dream of doing, but we’re also really showing that our incentives are very much aligned,” said Mlambo. “We only make money when they do and that’s why we’re happy to give a guarantee with that interchange.”

Speaking about the investment for Runa Capital, general partner Andre Bliznyuk said the company is excited to support Union54’s efforts to “supercharge the African fintech ecosystem by enabling their customers to easily launch new card-based products and deliver tangible value to the consumers.”

Tiger Global declined to comment on the investment. Nevertheless, it’s rather interesting that the investment firm is writing its fourth investment in an African fintech startup this year after Flutterwave in March, FairMoney in July and Mono, this month.

But a more impressive fact: Union54 seems to be its first bet outside Nigeria or South Africa, two of Africa’s four most dominant tech ecosystems, including Kenya and Egypt. Tiger Global had invested in Nigerian startups Jobberman, Cheki and Wakanow, and South African e-commerce company Takealot this past decade.

A far cry from Nigeria and South Africa’s bubbling tech ecosystem, Zambia has a relatively quiet startup and venture capital scene; therefore, Tiger Global’s participation in Union54’s seed round is a massive win for the southern African nation.

In retrospect, though, Mlambo and Martini’s experience as founders of Zazu, where they raised over $2 million as one of Zambia’s most funded startups, cannot be written off as a contributor to Union54’s seeming success.

Mlambo stated that when the company was raising this round, it prioritized speed and looked for a global partner due to the limitations imposed by its primary location in Zambia. And Tiger Global wasted no time proving it was the investor Union54 wanted.

“The discussion with Tiger was pretty straightforward; they committed pretty quickly and the process was pretty smooth,” the CEO remarked.

With Union54, the founders are taking on a pan-African problem, not a Zambian one. Consequently, the task ahead is in multiples, but so is the reward. For instance, Mlambo claims that Union54, in less than a month of operation, currently transacts more than Zazu’s volume after its first 10 months.

Mlambo touts Zambia as a solid place to carry out business. However, he says it’s been challenging to convince people to move to Zambia for work, so Union54 has had to rely on remote work (which is the norm now) for most of its startup life. It currently has a lean team of 10 located in Nigeria, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Europe.

Union54 plans to use this investment to ramp up recruitment across engineering, product, marketing, and sales teams. The Zambian company will also use the funds to expand its regional customer base. 

“The purpose of this funding is to help us find the best of African talent, people who want to work on big problems. The investment helps us to be able to go to them and say, ‘hey, we’re a well-funded company, we’ve got customers using us, we’re earning revenue and this is going to be one of the most important companies to come out of Africa.’”

But conclusively, the goal, Mlambo said, is to place the company in a stronger position to raise an attractive Series A within the next few months.

Early Black Friday deals hit Apple's 2021 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro

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Health tech startup mPharma acquires Vine Pharmacy, enters Uganda

mPharma, a Ghanaian health startup, has taken a controlling stake in Uganda’s Vine Pharmacy for an undisclosed amount, marking the firm’s entry into its latest market in Africa.

mPharma disclosed to TechCrunch that it has acquired a 55 percent stake previously held by  the Abraaj Group, a private equity firm that collapsed after investors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, sounded an alarm over the administration of its $1 billion healthcare fund. Abraaj bought Vine Pharmacy in 2013 when it was the largest pharmacy chain in Uganda.

The Vine Pharmacy take-over comes two years after the health startup bought Kenya’s Haltons Pharmacy for $5 million marking mPharma’s foray into the East Africa region.

“Vine used to be the biggest pharmacy chain in Uganda. At its peak, it had about 36 stores spread across the country. But with Abraaj as its largest shareholder, the business had to resize once there wasn’t any more capital available for growth. We are buying out the stake that Abraaj held,” mPharma co-founder and CEO Gregory Rockson told TechCrunch.

Rockson said that he hopes to take Vine Pharmacy to its former glory, when it held the position of the biggest retail pharmacy chain in Uganda. Vine Pharmacy had 20 branches across Uganda when Abraaj took over and embarked on an aggressive growth plan that involved doubling its branches by 2018 – a feat it accomplished until the PE collapsed leading to the shutdown of several outlets. Abraaj also grew the pharmacy’s wholesale business, supplied government agencies and health institutions, and expanded to include personalized patient care through home visits. 

mPharma was originally founded in 2013, by Rockson, Daniel Shoukimas and James Finucane, to manage prescription drug inventory for pharmacies and their suppliers. It currently runs retail pharmacy operations and provides market intelligence to hospitals, pharmacies and patients

It remains one of the well-funded startups across Africa, raising over $50 million since inception, including a Series C round of $17 million, led by the CDC Group, the U.K.’s development finance institution, last year. Other existing investors include Silicon Valley backer Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital, Shravin Bharti Mittal of the Bharti Global Limited, Social Capital and Golden Palm Investments. It also enjoys backing from Helena Foulkes, former president of CVS, the largest pharmacy retail chain in the U.S., and Daniel Vasella, ex-CEO and chairman of Novartis; both are members of the board.

“I can tell you Vine is a very profitable pharmacy chain. It’s been a family-owned business for almost 30 years, and so, we are really trying to use this moment to scale the business,” Rockson said.

“It’s a really exciting time for us and fortunately, Uganda is an exciting market. It may be like five years behind Kenya, but we think it is ripe for innovation and disruption,” he added.

mPharma’s recently announced that it was rolling out telemedicine services across its network of pharmacies in the continent in its efforts to bridge the doctor to patient gap by providing all-inclusive services. It plans to use its network of pharmacies to build what it describes as a digital primary care service that will offer all-in-one diagnostics services.

Earlier this year, mPharma entered Ethiopia after striking a franchising deal with Belayab Pharmaceuticals through its subsidiary, Haltons Limited. The Ethiopian pharmaceutical firm is part of Belayab Group — a franchisee of companies like Pizza Hut and Kia Motors — in the country.  

mPharma plans to continue its franchising model when expanding into new markets. This, Rockson said, will help the startup to focus more on building and refining its infrastructure for a seamless sourcing and distribution system that would address the challenges facing the pharmaceutical market across Africa, including unpredictable supply chains, exorbitant prices and low orders.

Last month, mPharma set-up operations in Gabon after the West African country contracted it to build drug supply chain infrastructure, increasing the startups footprint in the provision of pharmaceutical systems and distribution networks across the continent. Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and Rwanda are the other markets the tech startup has operations in.

The firm also partnered with Mt. Meru Group, a gas station operator in Rwanda, last November to establish pharmacy branches within its outlets.

“Within less than a year, we’ve been able to rapidly build the largest retail platform in the country. Today, Rwanda is a very promising market for us,” he said.

The African pharmaceutical market is expected to grow exponentially as the population balloons, thus providing a space for innovation and a market for startups offering mobile health solutions.

Across Africa, Deloitte says in a report, East Africa is the most promising region in terms of healthcare investment owing to its integration and the growing economy, supported by various sectors, including agriculture and tourism. The increased demand for services and products as consumers gain more spending power will also lead to an increase in healthcare and telecom spend, the report said – opportunities that mPharma hopes to tap.

Google News Showcase is launching in Canada

“Le Devoir is a proud partner of Google News Showcase. Today’s announcement marks a new era in our relationship. It is based on trust and a mutual understanding of our shared responsibility to strengthen the digital media landscape,” says Brian Myles, editor Le Devoir. “Google’s assistance and tools are critical in Le Devoir’s strategy to build a digital audience. We rely mainly on digital subscriptions and our business model is sustainable. In this regard, Google News Showcase fits perfectly with our current efforts to build a larger community of readers. This partnership will bring us a step forward in our digital transformation, while delivering our trusted and fact-based brand of independent journalism to a wider audience.”

News Showcase is just one of the ways we are supporting the news industry in Canada. Through our Google News Initiative, we also provide tools and training to help journalism in Canada thrive in the digital age. In June, we announced that we’re increasing our investments across a number of areas.

Over the next three years we’ll train 5,000 Canadian journalists and journalism students on strengthening digital skills in newsrooms –in addition to the 1,000 journalists we’ve already trained to date.

We are expanding our business-oriented workshops for small and mid-sized news organizations on topics including audience development, reader revenue and advertising revenue. The 10 sessions will be delivered in French and English and will use our Digital Growth Program resources and our award winning News Consumer Insights tools.

We have also just launched our first Google News Initiative Startups Boot Camp Canada in partnership with LION Publishers, an eight-week program that supports a group of aspiring, independent journalism entrepreneurs who are launching sustainable news products. Applications are now open until November 14.

All these efforts represent a collaborative effort between Google and publishers in Canada to contribute to quality journalism in this country. We’re here to support Canadian newsrooms, big and small, so that news can thrive in Canada for years to come.

WhatsApp users can transfer chat histories from iPhone to Google Pixel, Android 12 devices

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Google on Tuesday cleared another barrier to switching mobile operating systems, announcing that iPhone users can easily migrate WhatsApp chat histories to Pixel phones and devices that launch with Android 12.

All Pixel phones now support WhatsApp chat history transfers from iOS, Google said in an update to its blog. The feature is also rolling out to new smartphones that ship with Android 12.

“Your WhatsApp chat history will simply be copied from your iPhone to your new Android phone, and we’ll automatically make sure you don’t receive new messages on the old device while the transfer is in progress,” said Paul Dunlop, project manager at Google.

Google streamlined the process to enable fast and secure data transfers. Users who purchase a new Pixel or Android 12 smartphone will see an option to migrate WhatsApp data during the setup process. Connecting an iPhone via a USB-C to Lightning cable and scanning a QR code displayed on the target Android device will launch WhatsApp on iOS and move over conversations, media and more, Google says. A manual option can be accessed in the WhatsApp settings menu.

WhatsApp announced iOS-to-Android chat history transfers at a Samsung hardware event in August and the Korean tech giant’s devices were first to take advantage of the feature. An Android-to-iOS version is expected to launch at a later date.

It is unclear if the new WhatsApp transfer tool will drive switchers, but messaging histories, photos and other locally stored data are notorious contributors to platform stickiness.

Open banking startup Finverse wants to build the Asia-Pacific region’s Plaid

Based in Hong Kong, Finverse’s ambitious goal is to enable open banking throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The startup recently came out of stealth mode with $1.8 million in seed funding, and is now live in four markets (Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam) with connections to 30 banks. Founder and chief executive officer Stephane Lesaffre told TechCrunch that Finverse plans to launch in one new market per quarter, with the goal of covering about 75% of consumer and SMEs banks in each place.

Participants in Finverse’s seed round included Febe Ventures, Golden Gate Ventures, SixThirty, Venturra and angel investors.

Finverse is among a crop of fintechs developing APIs that allow easier sharing of financial data. The most prominent examples include Plaid in the United States and Tink and Truelayer in Europe (Finverse’s seed funding included angel investment from Truelayer employees).

Before starting Finverse in 2020, Lesaffre was senior product manager of financial data integrations at NerdWallet, working with account aggregation APIs like Plaid and legacy player Yodlee.

Plaid won the U.S. market because it was reliable and developer-friendly, Lesaffre said. It did not offer as much data coverage as Yodlee, but “what it did do is a very narrowly-focused set of data very well, and very easy to build. My ultimate learning from NerdWallet is that bad data is really worse than no data.”

Finverse wants to do the same thing for the Asia-Pacific region by building dependable APIs and data integrations. “At the core, we are a basically a consent-based data pipe where a consumer allows Finverse to connect to their account and share it with another fintech or financial institution,” said Lesaffre.

This can include information about accounts, balances, transaction histories and bank statements. Accessing this data gives financial institutions a sense of the consumer’s assets and liabilities, and can be used to perform things like income estimates, credit checks and gauge ability to repay.

Lesaffre said that Finverse’s early adopters are mostly fintech startups, including a mix of SME lending providers and buy now, pay later services.

Finverse’s APIs can be used for a wide range of use cases, but most of its current potential clients are focused on consumer or SME lending. Many of them want to transition from a heavily manual process that requires applicants to upload documents, to a digitized credit decision that can take as little as one minute.

Finverse is currently focused on banked consumers, or people who have traditional bank accounts and credit histories, but over time it also plans to add digital wallets, neobanks and other less traditional institutions. Future use cases include financial tracking as more people in Asia start using e-wallets, investment apps and online bank accounts.

“If you are a smaller digital bank, you know that a lot of your customers will have another primary account at a larger bank, so a lot of smaller banks are quite keen to be able to get a full perspective on their consumers,” said Lesaffre. “One way to do that is to let consumers track all their accounts in one place.”

Another use case for Finverse’s APIs is cross-border payments verification, compliance and KYC.

Other open banking startups focused on Southeast Asia include Brankas and Finantier. Lesaffre said Finverse’s approach is different because it is targeting the entire Asia-Pacific region, instead of focusing on specific markets. Its new funding will be used to grow its engineering and business development teams.

Apple's Craig Federighi to present keynote at Web Summit 2021 next week

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Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi is scheduled to present a keynote presentation at this year’s Web Summit, which will be held in November in Lisbon, Portugal.

As noted by Portuguese website iFeed, Web Summit recently updated its website with more information about Federighi’s appearance, which was announced earlier in October.

According to the conference, the Apple software executive is slated to hold a 25-minute keynote session on privacy and product security on Nov. 3, the third night of proceedings. Federighi will speak at the summit’s main venue, Altice Arena.

Not much else is known about the keynote, though topics of discussion will likely include Apple’s various privacy initiatives such as App Tracking Transparency, App Store “nutrition labels” and on-device security.

Web Summit runs from Nov. 1 through Nov. 4, and features a number of influential speakers from the worlds of tech, media, entertainment, sports, commerce and beyond. Executives from companies like Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, Magic Leap, Microsoft, Reddit, SAP, Spotify and Shutterstock will speak on a variety of issues, with some joining journalists from The Atlantic, Axios, CNBC, Financial Times, Reuters, The Washington Post and others for a series of sit-down talks.

Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked damning internal documents to the press and testified to government bodies about the social network’s allegedly nefarious business practices, will open the conference.

Web Summit regularly hosts members of the European Union’s European Commission and has in the past served as a stage for antitrust conversations. While no major announcements are expected, conference sessions could tip the antitrust watchdog’s hand. In 2019, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager hinted at an budding investigation into Apple Pay, an inquiry that has since evolved into a serious threat to the service’s future.

Next Apple Watch Activity Challenge honors Veterans Day

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Apple’s next Apple Watch Activity Challenge celebrates Veterans Day, with users of the wearable able to earn a limited edition award and animated stickers by completing a workout on Nov. 11.

Like past Veterans Day challenges, Apple Watch users can earn an American flag-inspired Activity award by participating in a workout of their choosing for at least 11 minutes on Thursday, Nov. 11.

In addition to the digital award, those who complete the challenge will receive an animated sticker pack for use in Messages, FaceTime and other apps.

“Earn this special award on November 11 by doing any workout for 11 minutes or more. Record your time with the Workout app or any app that adds workouts to Health,” Apple says, according to MacRumors.

Apple held its first Veterans Day Activity Challenge in 2017. The event sometimes accompanies the debut of curated content collections on Apple’s various online services or a corporate donation supporting veterans causes.

Last year, the company offered a four-month free trial of Apple Music to veterans of the U.S. military, National Guard and Reserve. The App Store also highlighted apps designed to help members of the military, while Apple TV and Apple Books published special content collections.

Twitter revenue largely unaffected by Apple privacy changes

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As the social media sector bemoans Apple’s recently enacted iOS privacy protections, Twitter on Tuesday said the changes that require users to opt in to ad tracking had a lower than expected impact on ad revenue.

Twitter reported third quarter earnings roughly in line with analyst forecasts, raking in revenue of $1.284 billion to fall just shy of Wall Street expectations, reports CNBC.

Revenue was up 37% on a year-over-year basis despite industry concerns that Apple’s new App Tracking Transparency feature will crater the mobile ad business. Twitter told investors that ATT”s impact on revenue was lower than anticipated, adding that effects will be “modest” in the fourth quarter.

ATT was enabled earlier this year with the release of iOS 14.5. The set of iOS system features restricts availability of ad targeting and metrics tools, and requires third-party apps to obtain permission from users before tracking them across apps and websites. Digital ads are not as valuable to advertisers without granular audience data gained from user tracking.

Twitter noted a sequential slowdown in ad revenue growth from the second quarter, but managed to pull in $1.14 billion during the period ending in September. That figure represents a 41% increase over last year’s results.

Digital ad brokers, businesses and online platforms have voiced concerns about ATT and some companies reliant on ad sales are feeling the pinch. Last week, shares of Snap plummeted on news that Apple’s privacy changes disrupted the social media firm’s business. The results dragged down stock prices of segment competitors, as investors looked to Snap as a bellweather for industry performance in a post-ATT world.

Facebook, the loudest critic of Apple’s privacy enhancements, on Monday posted strong earnings despite what it characterized as operating headwinds caused by the iOS feature addition.