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Adware: Taking a “Byte” out of your wallet and your battery

In our previous blog, we were not surprised to find Google, Internet browsing and Facebook in the top 10 most popular apps on 3G and LTE networks. But why would an unfamiliar “app” such as Doubleclick rank more popular than YouTube? And why is Score Card Research more popular than Twitter? What are these anyway? And how could we not know the names of the “apps” we are using most often?

It turns out they are part of a whole ecosystem of mobile products and services that help support our love for free access to information and free apps. Web banner ads are certainly part of our content mix. But in-app advertising, or “appvertising” as it is now known, is on the rise: two-thirds of the Android apps in the Google Play app store are free and 80% of those are ad-supported. Appvertising will continue on this fast growing trajectory since it is reported to be 11.4 times more effective than generic banner ads.

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Appvertising works like this:

“Data Collectors” (e.g. Score Card Research) retrieve information from your mobile device that can be used by ad campaign software to better target their ads. They can optionally retrieve your current location using Location Services (e.g. NTP servers), and, if you are a target for an ad campaign, a push notification service (e.g. Urban Airship or Xtify) alerts your device that an advertisement is ready to be presented to you. Your device then connects to the adware server (e.g. DoubleClick) to receive the ad. Sometimes, a single adware product will perform all those functions. That is the mechanism for getting a Samsung 4S ad to your screen after playing a round of free Bingo Bash on your iPhone!

So, the question is: how is appvertising (in the form of adware) impacting the consumer’s wallet, their device’s battery life and the service provider’s network?

Your Wallet…

The bad news… you are actually paying to receive ads and for most consumers, you’re paying on a daily basis! But how much really depends on your plan, your device, what apps you download and the number of apps you use in a day.

On average, LTE and 3G users have very little to worry about regarding volume. The full adware infrastructure tallies only 1% and 3% of their total data spend, respectively. The “adware tax” is heavier for those consumers spending their data mostly on 2G networks. These users do not engage in much video, making the proportion of data spent on ads higher. In their case, adware accounts for 14% of the total data volume spent in a month.

But averages do not tell the whole story! If you are an iPhone user and AdSheet is running on your phone (a native iPhone advertising service equivalent to DoubleClick on Android phones ), it will consume 25% and 5% of the total data volume for 2G users and 3G users, respectively.

Also, the average figures assume only one adware application is running on your device. Other top data spenders in the adware space like Burstly App Ads (used by Pandora, Zynga, Tumblr, Spotify, Instagram…) and Millennium Media MYDAS (used by Zynga’s Words with Friends game) can use up 12% and 10% of the average 2G consumer’s data volume. These percentages are cumulative when more than one adware app is running on your phone!

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Your battery…

Adware requires notification services to orchestrate the delivery of ads every few minutes while you play with an app. As a result, your device handles additional communication with the network and various servers (a.k.a. signaling) which consumes energy from your battery. 2G users will be looking for an electrical outlet more often: running adware (and consequently adware notification services) will introduce 26% more signaling than the signaling generated by ALL apps for an average user! And 3G/LTE users are not far behind. Adware doubles the signaling of the average 3G user and increases by 40% for LTE users.

Will all this signaling result in a noticeably reduced battery life? A recent study reported that ads consume 23% of the energy used by ad-supported Windows phone apps for 3G users. This is a noticeable reduction of battery life!

Conclusion

Mobile apps have become mainstream and free is the price we have come to expect. But app developers have to eat too. Ads enable them to get paid for their product while we feed our compulsion. Consumers have a few options if they want to save their battery and data plan. They can explicitly disable notification to eliminate pop-ups in the notification bar. However, this easy step only eliminates a small percentage of the notification draining your battery. A battery monitoring application can be installed to determine which applications deplete the battery the most. Ultimately, the best way to eliminate ads is to purchase your well-loved apps. It might just be cheaper in the long run!

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Our Analytics Beat studies examine a representative cross-section of mobile data customers using the 9900 Wireless Network Guardian and are made possible by the voluntary participation of our customers. Collectively, these customers provide mobile service to millions of subscribers worldwide.

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