As apps go, Ant Smasher sounds simple enough. The free game, which has been downloaded more than 50m times from the Google Play app store, allows mobile phone users to entertain themselves by squishing digital ants as they scurry down the screen. Splat, splat, splat.
But Ant Smasher has a dark side. It is one of a growing wave of apps that contains “adware” – aggressive advertising technology that displays ads in a phone’s notification bar and other places outside of the app itself, without consent.
Other types of adware go even further, making changes to phone settings, dropping icons on the home screen, and collecting personal data such as email addresses and mobile subscriber identities.
Lookout, a mobile security company, published a report on Wednesday showing that adware is on the rise. It found that 6.5 per cent of apps on Google Play contain adware, up from 5.5 per cent a year ago.
For any individual user, the chance of having adware on their Android device is low: just 1.6 per cent. But in aggregate, that means millions of people are affected and it suggest a significant amount of money is being made from this attention-grabbing type of advertising.
Lookout named five ad networks that serve adware: LeadBolt, RevMob, SendDroid, Moolah Media, and SellARing. These five ad networks and the company behind Ant Smasher could not immediately be reached for comment.
Once embedded in an app, SellARing replaces the “ring ring” tone you hear when call someone, with an ad. On its website, SellARing says app developers can earn as much as five times more through its ad-serving technology than they could have done with traditional in-app networks.
But there are limits to how far adware will spread into the app ecosystem. Consumers are already getting wiser to the risks.
One user of Ant Smasher posted this review of the game last month: “Uninstalling because of the invasive ads. You get ads in the game, between the levels and notification bar too. You are tripping.”