Ads in Apps that Slow Your Phone but Are Never Shown

26 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Are smartphone apps scamming you?.

Nearly 15 per cent of smartphone apps may load invisible ads that eat up as much as two gigabytes of connection data per day on images and videos that are never actually seen, according to a new study.

According to ad fraud detection firm Forensiq, mobile apps by a developer identified in the Play store as “Girls Apps” were loading hidden banner ads that users never actually saw, defrauding marketers in the process. Conducted by Forensiq, the study shows that many seemingly legitimate apps actually serve thousands of unseen ads in the background, both defrauding those companies and gobbling up data of unsuspecting smartphone users.

The firm arrived on this data by tracking the inner workings of ad exchanges, or digital marketplaces that auction off the screen space in front of users to advertisers in real time as a page or app is loading. If you accidentally grant access, that means that an app could be running and serving ads, and consequently adding to your mobile data bill, while your phone is sitting on your nightstand. It’s difficult for legitimate companies in the ecosystem to identify and combat fraudulent players, and in some cases, those legitimate companies may not be motivated to spend their time and money weeding out bad actors. In many ways, these apps act like botnets that scams users, but where botnets are usually unintentionally installed on desktops, these apps live in trusted app stores.

If you want to make sure you’re not getting taken advantage of, it’s always a good idea to occasionally go into your phone’s settings and note which apps on your phone are using a tremendous amount of data or power. Forensiq estimates that about 1 percent of mobile smartphone users in the U.S. run at least one app with this ad-serving flaw, and that number increases to 2-3 percent in European countries. Many of them are simple games or utilities, and they seem to have real users. “It’s not Angry Birds or Candy Crush, but these are apps that people play and enjoy and some real effort went into developing,” said David Sendroff, Forensiq’s founder and chief executive. One of them was a breastfeeding app for Apple devices published by American Baby magazine and app developer Sevenlogics; the invisible ads tout Olive Garden, Amazon, and IBM.

While it was a “livesaver” for a new mom, she found that “after a few months the freezes, restarts, and crashes became more frequent and persistent. I also noticed the pop up ads became more tricky to avoid accidentally clicking on, and now I swear my phone takes me straight to the App Store when I haven’t even touched the screen after the pop up appears.

Unfortunately it’s too late for me to switch apps because all my info is wrapped up in this one.” Complaints about crashing and slowness are also common on reviews for a series of silly games for Android devices with names like Waxing Eyebrows, Celebrity Baby, and Vampire Doctor, all published by the developer Girls Games Only. Forensiq’s video shows these also running code that produces a steady stream of unseen advertisements from companies like Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Mercedes Benz. Fraud is endemic in the online advertising world, and the victims —the brands paying for the ads—often lose track of where their ads end up once they are traded through several automated layers of middlemen.

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