The results of a study by ad fraud detection firm Forensiq show 13% of apps, on both iOS and Android, may load a barrage of invisible ads, defrauding advertisers by inflating viewer numbers, while using up precious data from users’ metered data plans.
Just over 13% of ads served up across apps on Android, Apple and Windows mobile devices were concealed from sight in this manner, the firm concluded from an analysis of more than 16 billion views on 12 million devices.
Such apps can sap a device’s battery life, while using up precious data allotments. Such operations can continue in the background, even after an app has been exited.
“We wanted to show the public how blatant and obvious and hurtful all this fraud is — not just to advertisers who pay for ads that no one sees but also people using these apps on these tiny devices that are bandwidth-limited and power-limited,” Forensiq’s chief scientist, Mike Andrews, told Mashable.
Forensiq gathered the data by tracking the inner workings of ad exchanges that auction off the screen space in apps loaded on your device to advertisers in real time. The steady flow of ad buys and sales through such platforms make it difficult to police the marketplace, allowing fraudulent apps to slip through the cracks.
While app stores do their best to vet the apps downloaded from their stores, developers can easily slip the fraudulent code in by disguising their true intentions until after their approved.
“From a scientific standpoint, it’s really kind of an impossible problem,” Andrews said. “At the end of the day, app developers can always obfuscate what exactly they are going to do when they are released into the wild.”
Users can take steps to avoid apps that might run up their cellular bills or drain their batteries by reading the reviews for apps, looking for reviews that might note excessive data or battery usage. Also, the firm says the problem tends to come from apps by smaller, lesser-known publishers, so keep an eye out when you download new apps.