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Mobile Software Makers Flying Blind After Facebook Deal

In television, there are the “Nielsen families,” who track their TV viewing and report back on what shows are popular and what shows aren’t. On the Web, there’s comScore and its army of panelists, who agree to let the research firm track their browsing habits and create a picture of what’s hot and what’s not.

But in the still-young world of mobile applications, that primary source of data about what people are actually doing with their smartphones is missing. A startup called Onavo was well on its way to filling that void—until it was acquired last year by Facebook.

The lack of information on how people are using mobile apps has left software entrepreneurs and investors flying blind. It’s harder to get a read on a promising upstart application today than it was even a year ago, when Onavo was still selling its data. There is plenty of information on how many people download an application, but it’s much harder to know how, or how much, people are using it once it’s on the phone.

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The dearth of data gives Internet Goliaths like Apple, Google and Facebook a big leg up over the would-be Davids trying to take them down.