Lookout Mobile Security Firm Tracks Down Questionable Advertising Apps
June 26, 2013

Lookout Mobile Security Firm Tracks Down Questionable Advertising Apps

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Mobile Security firm Lookout is apparently living up to its name and is on the lookout for apps that feature questionable advertising tactics. On Wednesday the firm began naming and even shaming the ad networks involved.

While the company noted that the majority of mobile ads are “A-OK,” it also warned that adware can get in the way of user privacy and can further capture personal information without proper notification. Even worse, warned Lookout, some mobile ads can modify phone settings and desktops without consent.

“Adware is the most prevalent app-based mobile threat around the world today. In the past year, Lookout estimates that more than one million American Android users downloaded adware. In fact, 6.5 percent of free apps in Google Play contain adware. It’s important to note that mobile ads are an important component in the mobile ecosystem and serve a critical purpose, allowing app developers a way to provide free apps,” Jeremy Linden of Lookout posted on the company’s blog.

“There is a lot of gray area when it comes to mobile ad standards, this is due in part to the fact that there haven’t been clear guidelines for the industry,” Linden added. “We believe the industry classification of adware is extremely important. We didn’t want to simply label aggressive ad networks as adware—this doesn’t address the root of the problem.”

As such Lookout has classified these problematic practices and has gone so far as to contact businesses that it believes utilize intrusive behavior and gave them 45 days to change their practices before “outing them.”

To date Lookout has called out several ad networks that it claims engage in one or more practices that it has deemed intrusive.

“We identified companies that fell outside of our classification, and starting in May 2013, we contacted the companies and asked them to change their practices. We set a 45-day timeframe in order to give the companies an appropriate amount of time to respond and improve their behaviors before we would flag them in our app as adware. As of June 18, 2013, LeadBolt, Moolah Media, RevMob, sellAring and SendDroid continued to demonstrate one or more of the above identified behaviors without appropriate user consent,” Linden added.

Lookout has further demanded that consumers should be clearly told about any possible adware practices prior to purchasing an app. In this regard Lookout is suggesting that certain activities may not be tolerated and what will be acceptable. For example ads can still be sent via push notifications, but users should be asked permission first.

The company also noted that racing and sports games are apps that are most likely to utilize adware, but Lookout reportedly found that approximately 6.5 percent of all free apps on Google Play contain adware. It also found that the adware in third party app stores is significantly higher. The firm estimated that more than one million Android users in the United States downloaded adware in the past year.

There are currently no clear standards as to what can be done with data that is gathered from this adware in the United States, and Lookout noted this probably is even worse with data stored outside the United States.