Are some mobile ads on Android devices acting as spies? According to one mobile security firm, the answer is yes.
San Francisco-based Lookout Mobile Security, in a posting Monday on its corporate blog, said that "select ad providers" in free mobile applications are accessing personal information without the user's notification or consent, through the use of "adware." The personal information includes e-mail, phone numbers, and names.
'Aggressive Ad Network'
Lookout said that, based on the large pool of apps that it has analyzed, about 5 percent use one of the "aggressive" ad networks. This accounts for more than 80 million downloads.
In addition to accessing personal information, Lookout said that "many of these ad providers also use aggressive mobile ad delivery techniques that can confuse users, like changing bookmark settings or delivering ads outside the context of an individual app."
Lookout's research was focused on apps for Android devices. It found that, on the Google Play marketplace, such personalization apps as wallpaper apps had the highest rate of aggressive ad network integrations -- 17 percent.
Among entertainment apps, the figure was 8 percent, with 7 percent for games and 4 percent for music and video. Other categories, such as utilities and tools, social, healthcare and fitness, productivity, and lifestyle had 3 percent or less.
Lookout has issued its own Mobile App Advertising Guidelines, which are designed to define what constitutes an offensive privacy or user experience practice. It said that the document is an evolving one, but the company will use it to determine which ads it will deem to be adware.
Ad Network Detector
The mobile security firm is also offering a free Ad Network Detector via Google Play. The Detector scans a phone and displays the kinds of ads, the ad networks, and the type of information that is being collected, so that a user can decide if a given ad-containing app should remain on the phone.
A roundtable discussion on a Privacy Bill of Rights for mobile apps is being held this week at the White House, attended by representatives from industries and privacy organizations. The effort is intended to result in a voluntary code of conduct for mobile ads.
We asked Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, if aggressive ads on Android devices could damage the reputation of the Android platform.
He replied that reports of this kind of aggressive advertising on Android apps "is one of the reasons why IT managers tend to be wary of Android."
Greengart said that, assuming the problem is as serious as Lookout reports, "Google needs to do a better job" of pro-actively scanning apps available on the Google Play for adware. "Right now," he said, "Google lets anything appear on its market, and then takes it down if anyone complains."
Posted: 2012-07-10 @ 12:49pm PT
Well, the problem is not that Google Play lets the apps to appear. The problem is that the users are not looking at requested permissions when they install new apps.
Even if Google Play stops spy- and mal- wares, users can easily install such apps from the internet.
There are some permission analyzer apps on the market like Anti Spy Mobile and Permission Dog that can take of it. Just look at permissions when you install new apps, and everything will be fine.