We all love the freemium route for mobile apps, and who doesn’t? But free doesn’t necessarily mean so. You pay for a mobile app when you stare at the advertisements. Mobile advertising has the capacity to reach out to a huge audience and simultaneously garner profit. This is all the more reason why it should be a cause for concern where security and innovation is concerned.
The advertiser usually throws in a chunk of code, otherwise known as a software development kit, or SDK, into an existing application for advertisements to work. Let’s do a quick run through the various mobile ads out there.
- Banner Ads: The advertisement banners are displayed at the top of an app and often include geo-location targets.
- Push Notifications: A remote server usually sends these announcements which get directed to the notification tray.
- Signup Ads: One often comes across these when an app is launched. They are full-screen ads that request users to sign up for more ads or get more information. They are also known as Capture Forms.
- Content Locks: Usually refers to the additional information or content that you get after you sign up or provide your email address to an app.
- App Walls: So you are using this awesome game and after you launch it, it shows you the other awesome games that you can download. That’s when the ad uses the existing ad network services to display other advertisements.
- App Icons: Usually refers to shortcuts for apps installed on the home screen.
That said, what are the risk factors? The security breaches go from being just annoying to really aggressive when the SDK collects a large amount of user data such as:
IMEI –The device specific number that identifies your mobile on a network.
IMSI – The number associated with your SIM card.
Other info including: Device model, OS version, geo-location, jailbreak or root status, language, country code and phone number.
In some cases, SDKs include adware that records all activity a user carries out. This information is later used to target you as a consumer. For example; you install an app that is then given access to the IMEI and IMSI number, uses your GPS coordinates and your phone number. The app might also request for your email address while starting it. It collects a list of bookmarks and with the help of a search icon placed on your desktop, it keeps a track of all that you search for. Such malware can alter phone settings, send notifications and/or sneakily access identifiable info. Reported cases of adware are more prevalent in the Android platform than iOS, where apps are more controlled.
Making money from free mobile apps implies that there is a huge scope for innovation for mobile app developers. However, there is no strict demarcation between what is good and bad where protecting user privacy is concerned. When awareness should be the first and foremost concern, ad networks should rework their regulations that allow transparent privacy policies, including opt-outs and link ads to the app that they were downloaded with. And as a user you should brush up your awareness and simultaneously think of investing in a mobile security suite. Mobile security software like Quick Heal not only protects your mobile from a malware attack, but comes with robust anti-theft and data protection features. It identifies and removes apps that have risky adware ingrained. Mobile scanning software is very effective for detecting and removing apps, especially those that are insistent on promoting advertisements that breach the privacy of the users.