The United States Securities and Exchange Commission announced on September 14 that App Annie Inc., a prominent data analytics firm focused on the mobile app industry, and its co-founder and former CEO Bertrand Schmitt, have agreed to settle securities fraud charges for engaging in “deceptive practices and making material misrepresentations about how App Annie’s alternative data was derived”. App Annie and Schmitt have agreed to pay more than $10 million to settle the charges.d

App Annie is one of the largest sellers of market data on mobile app performance, including estimates on the number of times a particular company’s app is downloaded, how often it’s used, and the amount of revenue the app generates for the company — these estimates are relied upon by the media and regulators alike. Trading firms commonly refer to this type of information as “alternative data” because it is not contained within companies’ financial statements or other traditional data sources. The SEC found that App Annie and Schmitt told companies whose data they sought, that the information would be anonymised and aggregated before being processed, but this data was, per the SEC, provided to third parties with far more specificity than expected.

What App Annie did

  • Trading firms were misled on consent for data: App Annie and Schmitt misrepresented to their trading firm customers that App Annie generated the estimates in a way that was consistent with the consents it obtained from companies that shared their confidential data and that App Annie had effective internal controls to prevent the misuse of confidential data and to ensure that it was in compliance with federal securities laws. According to the SEC’s order, App Annie and Schmitt were aware that trading firm customers were making investment decisions based on App Annie’s estimates, and App Annie also shared ideas for how the trading firms could use the estimates to trade, ahead of upcoming earnings announcements.

App Annie “also encouraged [trading firms] to trade on those estimates—often touting how closely they correlated with the companies’ true performance and stock prices,” said Gurbir S Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

  • What laws were violated: The SEC’s order found that App Annie and Schmitt violated the anti-fraud provisions of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. Without admitting or denying the findings, App Annie and Schmitt consented to the entry of a cease-and-desist order under which App Annie is ordered to pay a penalty of $10 million, Schmitt is ordered to pay a penalty of US$300,000, and Schmitt is prohibited from serving as an officer or director of a public company for three years.

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