Over 5% of all free mobile applications contain some form of overly aggressive adware, according to a report released by Lookout. These aggressive ad networks can access personal information on your device, such as email, phone number, and contact information, and can also change some phone settings and deliver ads in areas outside of the affected application, all without user permission. Of the applications surveyed by Lookout, the 5% which contain aggressive ad networks represent over 80 million downloads, suggesting that many of us are affected by adware.
Developers are more often looking towards these aggressive ad networks, as the payouts tend to be much higher than that offered by the more traditional lot. Airpush is a service that moves ads to the notification menu on mobile devices, and promises payments 10-30 times that of Google’s Admob platform. For a developer seeking to make a profit from a free application, the idea of earning 10-30 times what you’d make from the traditional channels is awfully tempting.
Of course, customers aren’t too keen on aggressive ad networks, and oft are quick to delete applications which contain them. So while developers have the opportunity to earn more per user, the additional earning potential is quickly reversed by a reduced install base. Security company Lookout is keenly aware of this problem, and has issued Mobile App Advertising Guidelines geared at helping developers choose an adware program that offer the greatest earnings potential while still providing an optimal user experience. The information provided is more common sense than insight; developers are encouraged to gain user consent for ads outside of the program (such as notification bar ads) ahead of time, as well as for ad services that access personal information from user devices.
In order to encourage developers to adopt their advertising guidelines, Lookout is also putting tools in the hands of users to help identify applications that use these aggressive ad networks. Users can download the Lookout Ad Network Detector from Google Play, which scans your phone and informs you which programs are accessing your personal information, as well as what personal information is collected by these applications.
Applications accessing personal information is a hot button issue at the moment. This week the White House is holding a Privacy Bill of Rights roundtable for mobile applications, where several key stakeholders in the industry will attempt to reach consensus on a code of conduct by which all applications available in the United States must abide if they are to continue to be available to end users. By publishing these guidelines ahead of the roundtable discussions, Lookout is hoping its guidelines will be adopted at least in some manner into the final Privacy Bill of Rights Document.