There's no escape: Ads come to your smartphone screen

There's no escape: Ads come to your smartphone screen

By Galen M. Gruman
Created 2014-07-11 03:00AM

Love to shop? Even if you don't, you may have no choice. Having filled our physical mailboxes with junk mail, our roads with billboards, our gas pumps and airport lobbies with ad-playing screens, and our email with spam, marketers are targeting one of the few sanctuaries from the barrage of sales "messages" in our everyday lives: our smartphones.

Mobile websites and most free (and some paid) mobile apps typically show us ads on the screen, as one of the prices for free content and services. But they're fairly subtle, which is why they don't work as well as ads in other venues. It's also the reason why there's the Fronto app for Android devices that puts full-screen ads where you can't avoid them: on the lock screen you need to get past to use your device. Apparently, 9 million users in Koreans have downloaded it and 2 million use it regularly. In west Africa, Samsung's local subsidiary is making Celltick's similar adware tool the start screen for Galaxy devices. The rest of us quake in fear that this will be a new feature in Android one day.

Google, whose two primary businesses are selling ads and building elaborate profiles of you to target those ads, had previously upped the ante in pushing ads front and center. Android 4.4 KitKat's Google Now cards feature, which purports to target information based on your interests, is really a venue for placing ads in front of you based on your likes and location. Fortunately, you can disable this disguised advertising.

You can also disable Fronto, that South Korean app that puts allegedly targeted ads on your Android smartphone's lock screen. Assuming you install it in the first place, that is -- which the company thinks you will, because you can't shop till you drop if you don't know what to shop for. Here's the Fronto pitch with my real-English translations in brackets, which shows the mentality we're up against:

Research shows that mobile device users look at their phones more than 100 times a day, so Fronto is making all this time worthwhile [to advertisers, that is]. ...

What's interesting to consumers about Fronto is that with the popularity in native ads [translation: ads disguised as content] and decline of Groupon-type coupons and other daily deal sites, it has truly demonstrated the limitation of the business model -- people are busy and distracted and are increasingly unlikely to respond to daily deal emails that are not immediately relevant to their interests. Lock screen apps offering curated content [translation: targeted ads] are a better overall fit for what people want now because they present offers upfront, before the user even has logged into their phone, and because the deals can be curated/sorted/targeted based on the user's specific interests. Several trends are converging to show the potential of lock screen apps for conveying information and engaging with users sooner, instead of competing for attention among dozens of rarely opened apps on the typical mobile device.

Fronto enables Android users to earn money by engaging with ads, deals, and relevant articles [translation: ads disguised as content] in their lock screen, and its proprietary lock screen technology is an effective vehicle for advertisers to deliver full-screen content to mobile users.

By the way, in the two years that Fronto has been avaiable in South Korea, it's paid about 50 cents per user, or $2.50 per active user. People really sell themselves cheaply, don't they? Now you too can pawn yourself for pennies and get spammed dozens of times a day as you look at your smartphone screen. How can you resist downloading that app right now?

Sarcasm aside, the marketing industry truly believes enough people are so addicted to shopping that they want to live in a world of constant pitches -- a personal Home Shopping Network you carry with you. hopes you're such a person; its new Android-based Fire Phone is all about selling you stuff [5] on its device, based on tracking your actions. You can even help it sell you more stuff by using its built-in object scanner to get a deal on whatever you're scanning. It's all the convenience of shopping online, only out in the real world!

The Android platform is where the worst advertising impulses are playing out, but marketers are also salivating over Bluetooth beacons [6], little gadgets that identify a location so that an app can know where you are and interact with you based on location. Apple's iBeacons technology [7] is already in many trials and is built in to all of its iPhones and iPads from the last few years, if you're running iOS 7. Google is working on its own beacons APIs for Android, but for now it's basically an iOS technology.

Beacons have lots of virtuous uses, but the ones getting all the attention focus on spam, such as sending you mobile coupons and alerts [8] as you walk by a certain store or enter a certain section of that store. Marketers love mobile coupons, and in the 15 years I've been covering the mobile industry, it's remained their Holy Grail, a quest that fortunately has not found its quarry yet. I suspect when they try to use beacons for such spam, people will simply delete the apps that serve as the spam's conduit.

Of course, I also expect Google to make beacons alerting part and parcel of a future Android and Chrome version, with no ability to turn it off -- in the name of ensuring you get "relevant content," naturally.

There may be in fact be no escape. Perhaps we should all give up, download Fronto now, and condition ourselves to love endless spam -- er, relevant content. After all, if we resist this effort, they'll start playing ads on our car navigation systems instead. Oh, wait -- BMW is working on that [9], too. (And you thought you'd escaped the tyranny of relentless radio ads by using your iPod's or smartphone's music with the car's nav/audio system instead.)

We must stop this now. Never download anything like Fronto. Turn off all spyware on all your devices, even if they look like apps. Install tracking blockers like [10]. Draw the line somewhere! Or there won't be one.

This article, "There's no escape: Ads come to your smartphone screen [11]," was originally published at [12]. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog [13] and follow the latest developments in mobile technology [14] at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen [15]. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter [16].



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