15% Smartphones Can Scam Users, Says Study

by CXOtoday News Desk    Jul 24, 2015


If your smartphone is working too slow or losing battery life quickly, it is possible that an app on your device has hijacked your phone to serve invisible ads at your expense and without your knowledge. A new study reveals that nearly 15 percent of smartphones have app adware that steal money from advertisers, while consuming phones’ battery and using gigabytes of connected data.

These ads are not just a problem for advertisers who stand to lose more than $1 billion dollars this year, but also for unsuspecting app users, said Forensiq that conducted a 10-day study to observe the number and type of apps committed this kind of fraud on various continents. The study found that in Europe and Asia the phenomenon is more widely spread, with two to three percent of devices running fake ads. In the US, only one percent of the devices observed had at least one app sneaking in unwanted ads.

These apps use malicious behavior like operating in the background, modifying and deleting memory, preventing the devices from sleeping and tracking users’ locations. Many of these behaviors have nothing to do with the app’s stated function.

The study states these invisible ads are being served on Android, Apple and Windows devices to artificially inflate viewer numbers. There’s not much difference between Apple and Android devices – they are equally infested with one or more of the 5,000 apps that were found to display ‘invisible’ ads, though expectdly, Android phones had a higher proportion of fraud risk (14.8%) as compared with iOS (11.7%) and Windows (8.8%).

Android users may be at greater risk due to the lax regulation of apps on the marketplace. Apple standards are much more rigorous for app approval, yet many scam apps slip through their net disguised as reputable software. It turns out that the ad fraud business is quite lucrative, as advertisers pay up to $850 million per year for their fake ads.

The study found that these bogus ads consume as much as two gigabytes of connection data per day. Users never see these ads, but they run in the background as long as possible. That level of use will sap a data plan in a matter of days.

The researchers made their conclusions by tracking inner ad exchanges, which are digital marketplaces that auction off the screen space in front to advertisers in real time as a page or app is loading. Most exchanges churn through billions of these transactions every day.


“We don’t know exactly everyone who is involved, but certainly many folks are benefiting here,” said firm CEO and founder David Sendroff. Many parties may have their hands on the money, including the app developers themselves.

Smartphone users can do some simple things to prevent a spike in their bills or draining their batteries. First, users can check their phones for unusually high data and battery usage. Switching off data access for apps that don’t need it is another good strategy.
Shopping for apps carefully and reading user reviews will help as well. The researchers noted that problems come from smaller, lesser-known app developers than highly reviewed and popular ones.