“What’s up with this ad taking over my phone?!” “Is this malware?” More and more, we’re hearing concerns about the ads that are cropping up on mobile devices. We’ve got your back with malware, data backup, lost or stolen devices. Now we’re adding aggressive advertisers to our shield with Lookout’s Mobile App Advertising Guidelines.
The situation: Many of our favorite free mobile applications serve ads within the app and rely on these ads for revenue. More than 50% of apps use ad providers such as ad networks and ad exchanges. While most of these ad providers do a great job with user experience and privacy, select ad providers are hampering the experience for mobile consumers.
Updated July 11, 2012
Recently we’ve been asked by some ad providers and app developers if we’ve ever used notification ads. As an app developer, we advertise in mobile applications ourselves and continuously experiment with new ad networks. Mobile advertising is a very important part of any app developer’s business. We’ve advertised with several reputable networks such as AdMob and Millennial Media. In 2011 we tested one ad network that used notification ads. After receiving negative user feedback about the user experience of these ads, we decided to stop using this form of advertising. Shortly thereafter, we discovered that one ad aggregator service we used had placed ads with an ad network in the notification area without our knowledge or approval. We suspect that many other companies have also unknowingly had their advertisements appear in places they did not approve. Both of these experiences inspired us to develop the Mobile App Advertising Guidelines, as aggressive advertising is an important issue for app developers, ad providers, users and businesses to understand. (End of update.)
Our research shows that select ad providers access personal information (including email, phone number and name) without clearly notifying the user. 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. Out of the vast pool of apps we analyzed, we found 5% use an aggressive ad network. That might seem like a small percent of apps, but those apps account for more than 80 million downloads, affecting millions of people.
This is definitely a pervasive issue. On Google Play we found that personalization apps, such as wallpaper apps, had the highest rate (17%) of aggressive ad network integrations.
Clearly these aggressive ad techniques fall into the bucket of “not kosher” for the end user, but it’s also a disservice to the entire mobile ecosystem.
Lookout’s new Mobile App Advertising Guidelines will equip mobile app advertisers and developers with clear privacy and user experience guidelines as they explore new mobile advertising techniques. Lookout’s aim is to support growth and innovation in mobile advertising while protecting user privacy and increasing the trustworthiness of ads.
Since protecting users is our top priority, we’ll also use these guidelines to help us identify what qualifies as adware. This is a living document that will change as the industry evolves, but ad providers that do not follow the basic requirements could be flagged as adware.
We think it’s important to understand what’s going on in your apps, so we encourage you to download the Ad Network Detector app by Lookout. Ad Network Detector puts the information that we’ve gathered about ad networks at your fingertips. The app shows you what types of ads can be displayed, as well as what personal information is collected by an ad network. With easy access to this information, you’ll be able to make a more informed choice regarding whether you want to keep certain apps on your phone.
We’re optimistic that the mobile advertising industry will embrace the best practices put forward in these guidelines. The Guidelines provide the industry with a framework for self-regulation for privacy best practices. By setting clear distinctions around absolute requirements and recommended requirements, Lookout’s Mobile App Advertising Guidelines bring clarity and prioritization to mobile ad privacy behavior.