How to Avoid Android Spam

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

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Google Inc.

If you're a frequent user of your Android device, you know very well that "free" apps actually take their payment in your attention for their ads. Here are a few ways ads show up in apps:

  • Your screen gets 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)

Many apps have paid versions that are very inexpensive. When you pay for the app, you lose the ads.

Some of these ads may have links to download other apps. That's fine if you happen to 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.

Worse, ads can show up when you're not even using the app, in the form of push notifications, or ads disguised as apps. Here we explore how these types of spam work, and what you can do to prevent them.

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

Push Notification Ads

Push alerts, push notifications, and notification spam are all terms that describe spammers' use of Android functionality to do some very annoying things when you're not actively using the app. It's important to note that this feature is a good thing when it performs actions you want, such as letting you know you have new email messages. But, it's not so good when used to try and sell you 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 you money.

Icon Spam Ads

Another type of spam was so bad that it was actually 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. But, only use outside sources you trust.

These ads show up on your home screen as icons, as though you'd downloaded a new app when you actually didn't. They may show up when you've 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.

Getting Rid of Spamming Apps

For detecting spam-generating apps, try one of the many ad network detectors like Ad Detector. These apps won't delete offending apps for you, but they'll tell you which ones are causing problems, and you can choose to delete them if you want to. When choosing an ad network detector, pay close attention to the ratings and review comments to make sure you're not accidentally downloading yet another spam generator.