How to Avoid Android Spam

Some innocent-seeming apps are actually wolves in sheep's clothing

Nexus 5
Google Inc.

On Android devices, free apps take their payment in your attention for their ads. Some ads may have links to download other apps. That's fine if you want the app that's being advertised, but not so great if you (or, inevitably, your kid) accidentally tap a link for something you don't want. Ads can also show up when you're not using the app, in the form of push notifications, or ads disguised as apps. Here's how these types of spam work, and what you can do to prevent them.

Many apps have paid versions that are inexpensive. When you pay for the app, the ads no longer appear.

The information included here should apply to all Android phones no matter who made your phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

Where Are the Ads?

Here are a few ways ads show up in apps:

  • The screen is interrupted by an ad.
  • An ad blocks a corner of the screen.
  • You must view an ad before you can use the app.
  • You must view an ad to do something you want within the app (such as complete a level in a game).

Push Notification Ads

Push alerts, push notifications, and notification spam are terms that describe spammers' use of Android functionality to do some annoying things when you're not actively using the app. This feature is a good thing when it performs actions you want, such as notifying you of new email messages. But, it's not so good when used to sell products you don't want or fool you into thinking you're clicking on a legitimate product update alert when you're actually launching a process to sign up for a service that will cost money.

Icon Spam Ads

Another type of spam was so bad that it was banned on Google Play. However, it's possible you'll encounter it if you install older versions of apps from a third-party app store.

If you use the Android OS, the only place you should download apps from is Google Play. There may be exceptions, such as a proprietary app used by your employer. Only use outside sources you trust.

These ads show up on the home screen as icons, as though you downloaded a new app when you actually didn't. They may show up when you downloaded another app, and the phony one is tied to an ad network that creates fake icons. Some of these phony icons may link to an app market that isn't Google Play.

Get Rid of Spamming Apps

To detect spam-generating apps, try an ad network detector such as Ad Detector. These apps won't delete offending spam apps, but they tell you which ones cause problems, and you can choose to delete them. When choosing an ad network detector, pay attention to the ratings and review comments to make sure you're not accidentally downloading another spam generator.