Android apps with 2.5 million downloads displaying ads with display off

In an era where smartphone usage has become an important part of our daily lives, the convenience and functionality provided by smartphone apps cannot be overstated.

However, recent reports have uncovered a disconcerting trend where popular Android apps with over 2.5 million downloads are continuing to display ads — even when the device’s display is turned off.

This invasive behaviour not only compromises user experience but also raises concerns about data privacy and security. Here’s how you can protect yourself from this rising trend in mobile apps.

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The Disturbing Trend

Forty-three apps that were available on Google’s Play Store were found to run in the background and fraudulently earn money for the app’s developer. The full list of these apps can be found on McAfee’s website.

The discovery of Android apps with significant download numbers engaging in secretive ad behaviour has sent shockwaves through the mobile app ecosystem.

Research conducted by Bleeping Computer and McAfee security has revealed that a considerable number of seemingly innocuous apps continue to display advertisements even when a user’s device screen is turned off. This phenomenon is not only an annoyance but also raises legitimate concerns about how these apps are functioning behind the scenes.

The Potential Risks

Privacy Concerns: Apps that display ads when the device’s display is off could potentially access personal and sensitive user information without their consent. While not all apps engaged in this behaviour may have malicious intent, the act itself demonstrates a disregard for user privacy.

Battery Drain: Displaying ads, even when the screen is off, can have a significant impact on the device’s battery life. Users may notice an unexpected and rapid battery drain, leading to a compromised overall experience.

Data Usage: Background ad activity can contribute to increased data usage, potentially resulting in additional charges for users who are on limited data plans.

Security Vulnerabilities: Apps engaged in this behaviour might introduce security vulnerabilities into the user’s device, leaving them susceptible to malware, phishing, or other cyber threats.

Taking Action

For users who have installed apps with such intrusive behaviour, here are some recommended steps to take:

Uninstall Suspicious Apps: Identify apps that have exhibited the behaviour of displaying ads with the display off. Uninstall these apps immediately to mitigate potential risks.

Review App Permissions: Pay close attention to the permissions requested by apps during installation or updates. If an app requests unnecessary permissions that could compromise your privacy, consider uninstalling it.

Check App Reviews: Before installing any app, read through user reviews and ratings on the Google Play Store. Look for mentions of invasive ads or other suspicious behaviour in the app’s reviews.

Use Ad Blockers: Consider using reputable ad blocker apps that can help prevent intrusive ads from appearing on your device, even when the screen is off.

Update Regularly: Keep your Android operating system and apps up to date. Developers often release updates that address security and privacy concerns.

Report to Google: If you encounter an app that displays ads with the screen off, report it to Google through the Play Store. This helps improve the overall quality and security of the app ecosystem.