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Are ads coming to the Android lock screen? Let's hope not

There are plenty of rumors about a Company planning to bring ads to the Android lock screen. Jack Wallen dispels those myths but adds a level of caution that trust shouldn't so easily be given.
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Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer on
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Pe3k -- Shutterstock

There's been a rumor running rampant on the interwebs that yet another new advertising platform for the Android operating system and Jack Wallen looks into the rumor and concludes that (at least on the surface) it is nothing but that… a rumor.

I am of the paranoid sort, and online advertising never fails to set my suspicion on high alert. But I do get it… companies have to keep the lights on, and ads have always been the easiest (although not always most successful) means of monetizing just about any online thing. However, recent news about the Android lock screen concerned me more.

Let me explain.

There's a mobile ad company named Glance (a subsidiary of InMobi), which is a mobile marketing platform based in India. Glance built a platform used to serve up content on the Android lock screen. This platform is already in use on low-end devices (such as the Jio Phone Next) and serves as a dynamic lock screen that can display various types of content, such as wallpapers, news, and even video.

It was recently reported (on several sites) that the content would also include ads.

Shudder.

Before I continue, know that Glance has responded to many accusations that have been springing up around the globe. Their responses are thus (taken directly from their site):

Glance is not an ads platform. Our primary goal is to create a safe and the best lock screen experience we can, and our commitment to consumers is that you'll never pick up your phone to see an ad on the lock screen itself, via the Glance platform.

While Glance's fundamental value proposition is consistent, the appearance and features will align with what our research shows consumers want in specific markets.

Given that Glance seeks to add value every time you reach for the phone, consumers are able to customize what they see on the lock screen. 

Glance's plans for monetization are driven by the Space a consumer chooses to consume at any moment. In other words, you could pay a subscription fee for premium news wraps to be displayed on your lock screen.

Breathe in, breathe out. According to the company itself, they have zero intentions of bringing advertising to the Android lock screen. That doesn't mean, however, that it's beyond the realm of possibility. And although I take Glance on its word that it has zero intention of serving ads to consumers, that's not to say that participants will follow that same rule. What happens if a user opts in to a certain content provider and that provider includes ads in their content? All of a sudden, those promises made by Glance mean nothing. That's just the mobile way of things, where anything can be abused if the need or desire is there.

Why mobile advertising is far from innocent

Let's pause here for a second, as you should already feel slightly suspicious about such a platform. A lock screen that pushes content to your device that may (or may not) allow users to customize said content (in Glance's case, it does allow for such customizations). That customization (as I mentioned earlier) means consumers could fall victim to untrustworthy third-party entities. Does that mean Glance will vet every third party that uses their platform? If not, that could become a recipe for disaster.

Consider this: Over the past few years, several malicious advertising networks have been discovered that are capable of injecting viruses, malware, and ransomware onto a device. Now, imagine one of those nefarious advertising networks manages to gain access to Glance's platform and pushes malicious ads onto every device that makes use of its lock screen. All of a sudden, you have a system capable of infecting hundreds of millions of mobile devices.

We don't need or want that.

Beyond the dangers of malicious mobile advertising, consumers are already inundated with ads. And even though you'd be able to unlock your phone without ever having to interact with those ads, this is still far from a good idea. Those ads will take up system resources, use data, clutter your lock screen, and just generally diminish the whole Android experience. And given some Android devices already suffer from serious bloatware (where carriers will install their own inferior apps alongside superior pre-installed apps), adding yet another layer on top of things will only serve to drain even more resources. To make matters worse, you can't uninstall or deactivate the bloatware. Imagine, then, that you have an entire overlay on your device with one purpose -- to force ads on you -- and you can't get rid of it.

Again, we don't need or want that.  

Before you get too worked up, Glance has yet to announce plans to make this happen in the US. Also, if Glance does follow through with their promise of no ads, this could be a non-issue. But I'm not one to blindly hand out my trust when it comes to mobile devices. We all keep sensitive information on those devices, and it has become far too easy for bad actors to access that data. And given how prevalent (and dangerous) online mobile advertising can be on the Android platform, it should have you concerned about the possibility that this could happen.

I'm not saying that it will happen… I'm saying that it could happen.

When it comes to mobile advertisement, the Android ecosystem is already somewhat fragile and prone to abuse. This is one of the main reasons I always tell Android users to only install applications from the Google Play Store and only those you absolutely must-have. The idea of being handed a device that includes a third-party lock screen that pushes third-party content to users makes me shudder. I'm all for personalizing the content you see on your mobile device. And if Glance follows through with its promise of only delivering useful content (and zero ads), then the platform could have benefits. But the second a single advertisement is pushed to the Android lock screen, Glance's platform becomes a breeding ground for malware and ransomware.

Please, Glance, if you are planning on a global release of your platform and you have any intentions other than what is claimed on your site, don't bother. If, however, your intentions are to deliver your product sans a single ad to the Android lock screen, then you do you, and I wish you great success.

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