Ad scams on Android are draining your battery and making scammers rich

Yoni Heisler

In light of all of the technologies and services offered by Google — from its popular search engine to Android — it’s somewhat easy to forget that the vast majority of the company’s revenue — which is in excess of $100 billion annually — comes from advertising. Indeed, it’s no stretch to say that Google is, at the core, an advertising company.

With mobile advertising being the multi-billion dollar industry that it is, it’s no surprise that shady advertisers are constantly looking for ways to skirt the system and generate a lot of cash in ill-deserved gains. As a result, some of the ploys these ad scammers implement are nothing short of fraudulent schemes that can sometimes hamper the user experience among Android users.

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To this point, BuzzFeed recently shed light on a clever practice whereby scammers will purchase relatively cheap banner ads and then stack hidden video ads underneath. Sometimes, multiple ads can be hidden underneath a single outward facing banner ad. When a non-suspecting user happens to click on said banner ad, a click for all the underlying ads is registered as well.

Aside from the outward fraud, this type of behavior is detrimental to users as it can have a discernible impact on battery life and system performance when running an app with ostensibly simple banner ads.

This scheme illustrates one of the central challenges in reducing the massive, multibillion-dollar fraud problem in digital advertising: Nearly every player in the supply chain, except for the brands who spend money on ads, profits from fraudulent ad delivery. Even if they’re not involved in ad fraud, platforms such as ad networks and other intermediaries earn a share of the money spent on invalid ads. This creates a disincentive to stop fraud from taking place…

BuzzFeed specifically cites the story off Julien, a developer with a popular audio app on Android. Often times, Julien receives user complaints about his app eating up data due to the fraudulent ad practices mentioned above. The sad reality is that Julien’s experience is not the exception to the rule as ad scammers inevitably try to cast a wide net before measures designed to curb their activity are implemented.

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