Have you noticed that some of the ads that show up on your mobile phone seem to know more about you than you would like? It knows if you’re a kid, a parent, an entrepreneur or a student and seem to display highly targeted ads based on what it knows about you. It’s not by accident and a recent discovery shows how thousands of apps may be breaking the advertising rules.
AppCensus an organization based out of Berkley, California published a report lat week detailing almost 18,000 Android apps in Google’s Play store that were violating Google’s Advertising policy by collecting persistent device identifiers such as serial numbers, IMEI, WiFi MAC addresses, SIM card serial numbers. The apps collect persistence device identifiers and send the collected identifiers to advertising domains for ad targeting.
So what does this mean to you? Essentially apps are combining your unique mobile phone (device identifier) with what you do on your phone to delivery more highly targeted ads. For example, one app might send an advertising network your device’s serial number. When a different app on your same phone sends that same advertising network your device’s serial number, that advertising network now knows that you use both of these apps, and can use that information to profile you. This sort of profiling is what is meant by “behavioral advertising.” That is, they track your behaviors so that they can infer your interests from those behaviors, and then send you ads targeted to those inferred interests.
Here are the Top 20 offenders with clickable links to details on the app’s security problems:
- Clean Master – Antivirus, Cleaner, & Booster (1 billion installs)
- Subway Surfers (1 billion installs)
- Flipboard: News For Our Time (500 million installs)
- My Talking Tom (500 million installs)
- Temple Run 2 (500 million installs)
The following 15 apps come completed the rest of the ‘top 20 list’ with over 100 million installs each:
- 3D Bowling
- 8 Ball Pool
- Angry Birds Classic
- Audiobooks from Audible
- B612 – Beauty & Filter Camera
- Banana Kong
- Battery Doctor – Battery Life Saver and Battery Cooler
- Beauty Plus – Easy Photo Editor & Selfie Camera
- Bus Rush
- CamScanner – Phone PDF Creator
- Cheetah Keyboard – Emoji & Stickers Keyboard
- Cooking Fever
- Cut The Rope Full Free
A spokesperson from Google stated that the company takes this issues very seriously and will be looking into it. One of the offenders on the top 20 list, Revo, the developer for Angry Birds has stated that they are conducting an investigation on the issue.
The take away:
Although you can reset the advertising ID on your Android device, doing so will not immediately translate into getting a new “identity” because app developers can also use a multitude of other identifiers to keep their tracking and targeting going.
Unfortunately until Google does something about this problem, the only thing you can do is remove any unwanted apps from your Android device.
Here’s what I recommend, go to https://www.appcensus.mobi and check the apps on your phone for security issues. If you find something on there that’s harvesting your behavior and selling it to the highest bidder (yes you Audible), remove it!
Stay safe out there.