Invisible Mobile Ads Aren’t As Innocent As You’d Hope

Security / Tech
Image courtesy Daniel Oines

Have you ever wanted to get even with those advertisers who spam mobile ads through the apps on your phone?  I know I have.  And there’s now malware that will do it for you by pulling ads that aren’t displayed for you to see, without you knowing it.  And that’s only part of what makes it a bad idea.

International Business Times wrote that there were some 5,000 iOS, Android, and Windows apps (as of last summer) that were serving up “invisible ads.”  I know. “Sounds like a personal problem.”  And, yes, it is!  For several reasons.

  1. It’s done without the phone owner’s knowledge, via malware.
  2. In order to pull in those ads that you never see, that malware is going to use your data pool.  Even if you use wifi a lot, there’s still going to be some data use.  Not all of us have unlimited data, so that’s not so good for us.
  3. Whether you use wifi or cell data, it creates a huge battery drain.
  4. As good as app screening may be in the iOS AppStore, Google Play, and the Microsoft store, Foresiq found 5100+ apps that were doing exactly this.  Some at a rate of 20 ads per minute!
  5. It defrauds advertisers into thinking certain mobile ad placements are better than they really are.  That’s to the tune of over $800 million a year.  When ads are correctly placed and seen and do their job, the cost is included in the price of what we buy.  When they don’t perform as expected, guess who still pays for them!?!

That may not seem like such a big deal, but estimates for the US, Europe, and Asia total some 20 million mobile devices.  That makes it a big deal.  And the annual price tag we mentioned is some 13% of what advertisers spend on mobile advertising.  Those numbers make it a big deal because that comes out of our pockets.

The apps that seem to have been “favored” are games and lifestyle apps.  So far, no one is sharing which apps and developers are involved.  There seem to be a mix of apps that are intentionally developed to do this and others where the developers are innocent, but their apps have been hacked.  What we can do is pay attention to changes in battery life and data usage.  If there’s a sudden increase (ours or our children’s), it can be pretty simple to figure out what got installed by us to our phone when this started.  We don’t need to be fearful.  But paying attention is a good thing.

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