Android Advertising Networks

An eye opener on advertising networks and what they can do with your Android mobile phone

Google Android LogoCoinciding with some recent news articles on Android, privacy, applications and advertising networks, I’ve come across an app that I’ve found very insightful. The app is Ad Network Detector from Lookout who also provide the Security and Antivirus protection that I use for my Android handset.  I thought I’d share my findings so you can decide whether it’s useful to you or not…

First a little background; Applications on Android sometimes use in-app advertising to earn money for the app developers.  Those adverts typically come from an ad network. The ad network is granted the same permissions as the application that’s using it. In short these ad networks are companies you’ve never heard of that have control of your phone and access to your data!!

Ad Network Detector - First resultsAd Network Detector inspects each app on your phone and the ad networks that each app uses. It then gives you a simplified report outlining which permissions are used, details on the advertising networks and what information is exchanged.

This first screen shot is the report that I received on my Android phone. Tapping any permission lists the ad networks that are using it. Tapping any ad network then shows which apps are using it along with info like Behaviour, Privacy and Opt-out.

A quick look at my report showed the first few permissions were all being used by an ad network that was only used by a screenshot application. Taking screenshots is a feature that’s already provided by Android so this app is redundant and I have no problems with removing it. (View my updated report)

Next I noticed a lot of ad networks were only being used by Words With Friends. I’m not particularly attached to this game so again I’m happy to remove the app in favour of keeping some control over who has access to my personal information. (View my updated report)

Ad Network Detector - Fourth ReportFrom what is left I can see a few ad networks used by a stopwatch app, a tool that I use quite often. There are plenty of similar apps so I found an alternative in the Android App Market, installed it, repeated the scan and saw that the new alternative stopwatch did not include any ad networks.

I can replace one app with another that provides almost identical functionality but which doesn’t compromise my personal information. This second screenshot shows my report after making three small changes.

Of the remaining two ad networks, AdMob is provided by Google and the detailed description provides a link to opt out of targeted adverts. Personally I’ll accept Google controlled adverts on my Google phone, and I’m happy with the information that they are gathering, so I’ll leave this one alone. That leaves only Mobclix which is used by an SMS backup tool and I’ve not decided yet how to deal with this one…

In summary it’s taken only a few minutes to drastically reduce the number of companies that have access to my phone and my personal information without losing any important functionality or features.

I’d be interested to hear your opinions on this tool and the advertising networks in the comments down below…