Ad nets secretly collecting private data

2012-07-09 22:22

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

New York  - Some advertising networks have been secretly collecting app users personal details over the past year and now have access to millions of smartphones globally, US-based mobile security firm LookOut said.

These unregulated practices are on the rise, LookOut said on Monday as it unveiled the first industry guidelines on how app developers and advertisers could avoid raising consumer angst.

Some of the most advanced mobile viruses can even create charges to consumers phone bill or crash the devices.

"Aggressive ad networks are much more prevalent than malicious applications. It is the most prevalent mobile privacy issue that exists," Kevin Mahaffey, LookOut's technology chief and co-founder, told Reuters in an interview.

Over 80 million apps have been downloaded which carry a form of invasive ads - used by 5% of all free apps on Google's Android platform - which can take data from phones or install software without users' knowledge.

Some more aggressive networks collect users e-mail addresses or phone numbers without permission, while others install icons to home screens, track users whereabouts or push ads to notification bar.

Mobile devices have so far had limited appeal for writers of viruses or other malware due to numerous small platforms and limited financial gains but, during the first quarter, the amount of malware on the popular Android platform jumped to 7 000 from 600, according to Intel's security software arm McAfee.

LookOut declined to name the most aggressive ad networks, hoping some of them would align practices to match the new guidelines which include publishing details on their privacy policy and allowing consumers to avoid data collection.

Jules Polonetsky, co-chair of Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington-based think tank focusing on responsible data handling practices, said consumers need to be aware of the risks.

Angry Birds

"Many apps are ad-supported, there is nothing wrong with it, but users should know what is their trade-off," said Polonetsky.

Advertising networks work as intermediaries, linking large numbers of advertisers with media publishers.

They have seen a boost especially from a rise of Google's Android platform, where many of the applications, like Angry Birds, are distributed free and funded through changing advertisements.

Ad companies are closely watching the sector as mobile advertising presents an opportunity for new revenue streams. Advertisers are attracted to the sheer size of the audience.

"If you look at the 6 billion eyeballs - there is a potential for a goldrush," said David Gosen, a director at market research firm Nielsen.

But with consumers increasingly conscious of privacy issues, some said aggressive practices could backfire on the $8bn industry.

"We are in a very early days of mobile advertising and models are very much derived from the web where practices have not been very respectful," said Anne Bezancon, founder and president of Placecast, which provides location-based marketing services but never shares or sells information of its 10 million clients.

"The mobile experience is much more intimate and personal - a phone is an extension of you, not a distant publishing screen. The equivalent is someone whispering in your ear."

Read more on:    us  |  internet security  |  online privacy

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

linking and moving

2015-04-22 07:36 publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Miley Cyrus can’t get enough of her new puppy

Miley's new dog is too adorable.



13 guilty pets
Meet SA's top poacher-catcher
The unusual pets of Instagram
Bertie sets a new world record!

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts

Plant some seeds. Your innovative mind is on fire and your ingenious ideas may just be the seeds for future projects. You may more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.