How secure is your Android phone, really? If the statistics released by today by mobile security firm Lookout are to be believed, some smartphone owners are more security conscious than others. According to the company’s estimates, over 1 million American Android users have unwittingly installed adware. (Lookout defines adware as apps that display overly obtrusive advertising, harvest “personally identifiable information,” or “perform unexpected actions” as a result of user interaction.) Even more discouraging, the company says about 6.5 percent of the free applications available in the Google Play store contain adware. Assuming that’s accurate, a simple calculation using Google’s most recent Play store app count reveals that just over 55,000 applications contain harmful code.
Lookout’s statistics provide a detailed look at the percentage of adware contained certain categories of apps available from the Google Play store. Free Personalization applications are the worst offenders: 26 percent have adware of some kind. Social apps fare far better, with only 2 percent of free applications incorporating adware. Free games are somewhere in the middle, with 9 percent containing adware.
The numbers from Lookout are worrisome, but not unexpected. Bitdefender, a mobile security software maker, said in May that adware targeting Android increased by 35 percent in the United States and 61 percent globally. Earlier this week, Juniper Networks released a report that broke down mobile adware’s distribution by platform. Android took the dubious crown, with 92 percent of threats running on the operating system.
In a post on Lookout’s blog, Lookout product manager Jeremy Linden stressed the need for mobile advertising companies to “protect user privacy and excellent user experience.” He suggested unscrupulous ad frameworks that “[capture] personal information” without asking and “[modify] phone settings and desktop” without permission harm the integrity of the smartphone ecosystem. Linden wrote, “People need to trust and feel comfortable on their smartphones and tablets in order to use them!”