Report: Mobile Apps Leverage Ad Networks That Threaten Your Privacy

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 09, 2012

According to a report from Lookout Mobile, a security firm, mobile advertisements represent a much bigger threat to users than many of them realize. Lookout Mobile has found that approximately five percent of Android apps, in particular, leverage "aggressive ad networks" that can compromise user privacy and drain the batteries on mobile devices. Meanwhile, one of the biggest government privacy pow-wows ever is about to take place.

PCMag has good analysis of the Lookout Mobile report:

"According to mobile security firm Lookout Mobile, about five percent of Android apps contain what it calls an 'aggressive ad network'—an intrusive mobile ad network that toes the line between legitimate software and actual malware. Behaviors of these networks include collecting excessive amounts of data, installing bookmarks in your browser without your knowledge, and spamming your Notifications Bar."

If you've used Android devices for any length of time, your probably familiar with these problems. It is worth noting that some apps are more annoying than others.

The other problem with aggressive ad networks that integrate with mobile apps is that they can seriously drain the power on your mobile device. So it's worth policing your apps if you suspect that they do integrate with oppressive networks.

Elsewhere this week, the U.S. National Telecommunications & Information Administration is holding a major conference focused on privacy legislation.  According to the notice of the discussion:

"Mobile applications are socially and economically important, but mobile devices pose distinct consumer privacy challenges, such as disclosing relevant information on a small display. In addition, commenters noted that practices surrounding the disclosure of consumer data privacy practices do not appear to have kept pace with rapid developments in technology and business models.  Although other possible topics were suggested and may be pursued in future multistakeholder convenings, the mobile app transparency topic presents a strong opportunity for stakeholders to reach consensus on a code of conduct in a reasonable timeframe."

Here are the goals of the discussion, according to the NTIA:

"The NTIA-convened process will encourage stakeholders to develop a code of conduct that promotes transparent disclosures to consumers concerning mobile apps’ treatment of personal data. A code of conduct would give mobile app-related businesses greater certainty about how the Privacy Blueprint’s transparency principle applies to them.  A code of conduct might address how best to convey data practices to consumers who download mobile apps and use interactive mobile services."

OStatic will follow up on the results of the NTIA meeting, which may impact makers of mobile apps as well as mobile device providers. In the meantime, don't cast a blind eye to how your mobile apps treat your privacy.