Study Shows Phone Ads Can Steal Contacts

Malicious apps in mobiles are normally the cause of concern for technologists, but little do they know that some of those annoying ads are also running their own little codes to siphon contact information from phones without users knowing it.

According to a security company based in San Francisco called Lookout, about 5% of today’s apps use “aggressive” ad network to make additional money. These apps change smartphone settings including browser settings without a user’s permission and compile whatever information they can gather for future marketing. Lookout said there are tens of thousands apps right now that are engaged in this rogue practice.

The usual activities of aggressive ad networks involve disguising ads as app icons or text message notifications. Many of such ads will also change browser settings and bookmarks.

As there are millions of apps in stores, the small sliver can add up to a considerable number. The study conducted by Lookout revealed that over 19,000 out of 384,000 apps tested are using illicit means in advertising including the use of malicious ad networks and totals a whooping 80 million downloads.

Like bad computer software, the most direct way of getting rid of malicious apps is to delete them from a smartphone although it can be a challenge to pinpoint which app is causing the problem. The problem is similar to the early adware of personal computers decades ago.

Developers of free apps usually get revenue from ads within their apps. The main appeal of these ad networks that Lookout labels “aggressive” is the fact that they offer more income for the developers. The free version of Angry Birds oftentimes allows pop-up ads just when a red bird is being catapulted at the pigs.

Many apps utilize the readily available ad networks like Google’s AdMob, Apple’s iAd, and Jumptap. They also collect information about client phones but don’t go to the extreme of changing phone settings and uploading contact information to their respective servers.

PhoneLiving is at the crosshairs of Lookout for such activity although it claims that it has already stopped practicing it. The  company that using such invasive tactics in its ads caused many users to uninstall its apps including lower number of downloads.

Another ad network which uses rogue practices is Airpush.  It places ads in home pages and notification bars in Android phones to generate more clicks since even the inactive users can view the ads. Airpush is the second-biggest network for ads in Androids.

One difficulty for users to prevent their phone information from becoming compromised is the lack of information from developers as to what ad network they’re using in their applications.

Lookout also said that bad ad networks are more prevalent in Androids than iPhones because of Google Play’s minimal restrictions and filter system for malicious practices. This doesn’t mean though that iPhones are immune as some ad networks are present in both iOS and Android like Leadbolt and Moolah Media.

While it sounds scary, there is still no cause for alarm here. The problem though is a growing one and unless such malicious practices are curbed, mobile users may have to brace the consequence in the next few years.