Monday, 17 June 2013

Why Google should make its own ad blocker

All or none

Don't like ads on your Android? If you rooted your gadget you can keep almost every ad away with AdAway or AdFree. Not rooted? AdBlock Plus will keep a lot of annoying ads away.

But what if you want to allow a few ads in the small number of apps that deserve a few pennies from their banners?

AdAway and AdFree work like sledgehammers. They block ad servers by telling your Android hosts file to send ad requests to hell. Unfortunately they won't let you whitelist any apps or sites, so if you tell it to block those annoying Google ads it will block all of them.

And they block 'em forever. If you want to run an app ad-free for a while to decide if you want to keep it, then allow its ads if you think the app is worth it, you can't.

Fighting the spamware from the Play Store

The Google Play Store has about a million apps in it, and most of 'em are crap. There are a few hundred thousand apps out there that exist for the sole purpose of spamming your phone or tablet with ads without giving you anything useful in return. Sure, you can uninstall the junk as soon as you find out you've been cheated into downloading it, but sometimes it's too late and the spammer already got paid.

Because an increasing number of apps dump spammy icons on your homescreen, add some crappy links to your browser bookmarks, and even try to change your browser homepage to send you to a website nobody with half a working brain cell would ever choose to visit. And that spamware pays as soon as it's installed, which encourages rogue developers to flood the Play Store with even more junk apps just to make a quick few pennies in the thirty seconds between installing and removing the spamware.
Worse yet, when you uninstall theoffending app that doesn't remove its spam. The homescreen links, crap shortcuts, and junk homepage stay behind for you to clean up.

A job for Google

How to kick the crap out of the Play Store? A good start would be some Googlecode that prevents apps from the Play Store from showing ads within the first hour or so. This way the spamware can't rake in undeserved money in the few minutes it takes you to find out you've been tricked into downloading app spam, and only apps that are good enough to keep make money from ads.

Along the same lines, Google could stop apps from sending out your IMEI, phone number, address book, email, and other sensitive data until the app has proven worthy by staying on your device for more than an hour. Fixing the broken Android permissions system would help a lot as well. For starters, Google could split the "phone state and identity" permission into "phone state" (mostly harmless) and "phone identity" (widely abused by thousands of apps).

Quarantining ads and data to keep the money away from the spammers and scammers would dramatically improve the quality of the apps on offer in Google's app store. It would also increase the reputation of ad-supported apps, and push less people into installing ad blockers. By making an ad blocker of its own, Google could increase the value of the ads that remain. It would be much better than Google's current attempt to keep ad blockers out of its shop.

One more thing that Google should do: require that each and every app in the Play Store discloses that it has ads and where they come from before you install them, and kick out apps that fail to be up-front about their ads. Or maybe Google shouldn't. If an app doesn't tell you it has any ads in it, you don't have to feel guilty about blocking them ;)

Just say no to bad ads

Have some apps on your phone or tablet that take their advertising too far? If they don't need internet access to do their job, firewalling them offline ensures that they can't download stuff that you'd rather keep out. It also ensures that they can't steal your phone number or other data that you want to keep to yourself. Ad servers that load blinking gif animations, try to push malware to your device, or abuse Flash or HTML5 to send you ads that make noise are easily blocked with AdAway (my favourite ad blocker) or AdFree.

AFWall+ (excellent firewall)

AdAway, AdFree, and AdBlock Plus

Addons Detector (tells you which ads are in which apps, because the dev often doesn't)

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