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August 11, 2013

Zscaler identifies adware on Google Play apps with privacy risks

Gap between Google Play and AV vendors on adware classification.

By Claire Vanner

Zscaler has identified a gap between Google Play and AV vendors adware classification after analyzing apps for security and privacy risks.

Deceptive adware practices are capturing personal information without properly notifying users and modifying phone settings without consent. While these mobile ads are often not malicious, they are having a detrimental effect to users by warping their perception of both privacy and their overall user experience.

Zscaler regularly analyzes applications in the Google Play store to profile apps and identify those presenting security and privacy risks. Zscaler has tracked the top 300 applications in each category on the Google Play store concerning the prevalence of ‘adware’ in apps.

Zscaler found around 1,845 apps that were flagged by one or more AV vendors as including adware. Most were flagged due to their excessive inclusion of ads and deceptive practices for delivering, such as altering device settings.

For example, many AV vendors flag the Airpush API as adware. Despite this fact, there are many apps within the Google Play store that include this API. This illustrates the conflicting interests that Google and the AV vendors have.

Google has the incentive to allow apps with aggressive advertising practices by profiting from both paid free apps through advertising. AV vendors on the other hand have no such incentive but are instead under pressure to show that they are adding value by identifying malicious/suspicious/unwanted content.

As such, there is a big gap between Google and AV vendors when it comes to adware. Ultimately, end users are stuck in the middle as they are left to decide if they will keep or delete the apps being flagged.

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