Mobile specialist agency Fetch, which is headquartered in London but has an office in Hong Kong, where Uber is also a client, was acquired by Dentsu Aegis Network in 2014 for a deal reportedly worth around $48 million.
Between 2015 and March 2017, when Uber suspended its partnership with Fetch, the agency was paid $82.5 million, according to court documents, and Uber is now seeking around half that amount in damages. Suspicions of fraud were apparently first raised early in the year when Uber asked Fetch to stop posting ads on all networks associated with Breitbart News, a far-right news and commentary website that famously supported Donald Trump's presidential campaign last year. Some 2,000 other brands have also removed ads from the site since the election due to Breitbart's controversial stance.
Fetch claimed to have stopped posting the ads, but Uber was surprised to note that app download numbers—which determine how much it pays Fetch—remained largely the same. Downloads that Fetch claimed originated in clicks on other, unflagged sites, were in fact still coming from Breitbart.com, Uber discovered.
Uber's suit also lays out further evidence of misconduct, stating, for example, that the agency failed to "pass back to Uber volume rebates, commissions, or discounts received from networks and publishers, causing Uber to overpay for mobile inventory and Fetch’s commission."
"Fetch was running a wild west of online advertising fraud, allowing Uber ads on websites we wanted nothing to do with, and fraudulently claiming credit for app downloads that happened without a customer ever clicking on an ad," said Uber in an emailed statement.
Dentsu was not named in the lawsuit. Neither Fetch nor Uber responded to Campaign Asia-Pacific's requests for comment at the time of publication, nor has Fetch made any overall statement yet.
The allegations come a year after Fetch made public its attempts to avoid exactly such a disaster by teaming up with fraud detection firm Forensiq. At the time, Fetch CEO James Connelly said of the move: "Waiting for industry-wide governance and best practice is not an answer that creates our clients value quick enough. By leading the market and working with key partners like Forensiq, Fetch is already saving significant advertising dollars from fraudulent activity. By building new data into our buying process and enforcing more control with the supply chain of media, we are ensuring that we maintain competitive advantage and continue to deliver the very best solutions at the most optimal price."