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Nowadays, I see apps containing up to 10 ad modules (maybe even more). While most of them might just be an annoyance, some of them carry a privacy risk, like inMobi ¹ or RevMob ² (for some background, take a look at Beware those snooping mods! on my Android website).

While I know about a few (as listed behind that link), there are hundreds of different ad networks with their modules. One hardly can know them all. So my question is:

How can I tell if an app contains an (ad) module dangerous to my privacy, or otherwise agressive (remember Airpush, do you)? Preferably before I install it?

At least I can check which modules are part of an app if I look it up at Appbrain, where they are listed (if they are available at the Google Play Store that is). But while Appbrain also links to details for each of them, those only include statistics, but don't mention the dangers associated. Yes, there are some apps to Identify Ad-Modules – but most of them haven't been updated within the last 2-3 years. Apart from which, they can only scan apps I've already installed.

So what approaches would you recommend the privacy-concerned user to protect himself against those intruders, and avoid them?

PS: I'm not asking about ad-blockers here, so please do not focus your answers on those.

PPS: As I still didn't find any viable solution, I started a spin-off question on our sister site to build my own: API to access details on modules in Android apps. Input welcome!


¹ inMobi requires access to Internet and Network state – plus uses your location, microphone, calendar (read and write) and more, if accessible to the host app

² RevMob has full network access and reads your device identifiers

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Could the "Scan & Google Play" feature of AppBrain Ad detector (: https://www.appbrain.com/app/appbrain-ad-detector/com.appspot.swisscodemonkeys.detector ) help you? On your Android devices this feature allows a little overlay on top of Google Play so if you click a link to Google Play you can see the ad detector stats already before you install the app.

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    Thanks Matthijs, I'm aware of that. One of the apps I mentioned not having been updated lately (last version is from 2014-09), so I'm not sure how up-to-date the details on the networks are. After all, it's the very same app used to collect that data whenever an app is installed, AFAIK. – Izzy Feb 24 '17 at 8:08
  • Just noticing: didn't we exchange some mails over the past few years? Maybe an update to your answer would be that while the app itself wasn't updated, its "signatures" are (so it should also find new-comers)? – Izzy Sep 28 '18 at 12:48
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More than a year later, adding to the topic: Exodus Privacy offers to scan apps for trackers – as long as they are available at Google Play for free. You can search for apps interactively, and request to scan what is not yet there (or no longer up-to-date). Results are shown per app version. You can also check the list of trackers known to Exodus.

This at least helps to see whether an app has trackers and which. Unfortunately, there are no details on the trackers, e.g. detailing on what evil things they do. Fortunately again, Exodus even offers API access (you have to request an API key though, but it's free). That way I was able to integrate it with my app listings (showing which evil trackers an app might have), combining it with facts I've collected on some libraries. The API currently is read-only, i.e. you can query existing results – but to submit an app for scan must be done manually.

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