When Does Mobile Advertising Go Too Far?


Years ago when Google bought a smartphone operating system people theorized that a Google cellphone and service would be free — just like most other Google services. The phone and service could be subsidized by ads that were omni-present in various places on the phone, or Google could simply use your location and content of your phone calls to help further customize ads for you.

Looking back we know that wasn’t the case. Google’s ads on Android are fairly similar to those on desktop computers. When ads are displayed they are inside apps and webpages, not as a part of the operating system itself. Not only that, phones and service plans are anything but “free”.

Today, content providers and app developers can make money by selling their product (or a subscription to it) to end-users. Alternatively, ads can be placed inside apps and content, requiring no direct, out-of-pocket payment by end users, by providing advertisers with another opportunity to sell to you, and additional information about who you are — and where you’re geographically located.

Unfortunately for many app developers, ad-based revenue is pretty slim. What they need is a way to get their ads either paying per impression or paying better per click — or getting in front of their users eyes more often. It’s the latter that has gotten more than a few developers on some hot water, not just with their users but with Google, too.

A new ad provider, AirPush, recently surfaced offering substantially more ad revenue than their competition. Rather than displaying ads in the app (usually at the top and/or the bottom of the screen), this provider puts the ads in the user’s notification bar. At first glance that sounds like a good idea. This could let multiple ads “stack up” in the notification area depending on how long you used the app, and gets the ads out of the way of the app, freeing up space on-screen for more useful information. That’s where the good news stops and the bad new begins.

Apparently one of the ways AirPush intended to get more impressions was by keeping their ad service running — even when the app that spawned the process was no longer being used. That’s where the line gets blurry. On Android you generally don’t “close” apps, you simply navigate away from them. In many cases, even though you’re not using an app, it’s still running in the background, waiting for you to return to it. In this case, the AirPush ads keep running, and keep showing up in the notification bar.

One app developer started to get a substantial amount of negative feedback from his users immediately after implementing AirPush. Google even got so many “malicious” reports filed against it they took the app off the Market. In that instance the developer has since apologized to his users and removed AirPush from his app, which has been re-listed in the Android Market.

AirPush apparently took a lot of flack and has essentially removed their “Why Use Our Service” video from YouTube.

As someone who’s published a few apps and runs several websites I can attest to the need to bring in revenue. As an end-user, I hate most mobile ads: my Internet connection and processor speed are already not “fast enough” and my screen is already “too small” to be taken up by ads.

All that having been said, what about ads delivered by text messaging and email? Those both occupy space in the notification bar and can happen at any time, even when the app that’s being monetized by them isn’t running — or even has been uninstalled. Should those be blocked as well? Can they be? Is all this blowing things out of proportion, or is the concept that AirPush was using a bad idea?

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.