AppBrain Ad Detector exposes apps that spam ads and have questionable privacy permissions

March 30, 2012 | by Andrew Kameka

Android App Reviews, Reviews, Tools


Evaluated version: 1.1

Pros: Tons of information on apps, sorts by concerns, scans newly installed apps

Cons: Doesn't always provide next step information on how to deal with apps or distinguish between questionable and legit permission requests

I recently reviewed an app that some readers expressed concerns about permission requests and its use of ads in the notification window. While I often warn about checking permissions prior to installing, I wasn’t concerned with this particular app being a threat. But if you want to be more cautious and stay informed about what type of data your apps may have access to, AppBrain has released a new app to aid that effort.

AppBrain Ad Detector is a free utility that scans Android devices to locate apps that might “Concern” users. That includes anything from discovering which apps send advertisements outside of the app to those that can access accounts or contacts. It’s important to note that access is not automatically a cause for concern; every app that I scanned has a perfectly legitimate reason for wanting that data and I knew that when I installed the app. But Ad Detector may be a useful back up plan should you miss something or decide to investigate more. The “Live Mode” also helps safeguard your phone because it scans each newly-installed app and sends notifications when there are concerns about the app.

Ad Detector also proves useful when trying to investigate which apps are being intrusive with their advertisements. There are times when a user installs an app and then starts receiving ads in the notification drawer, or sees strange shortcuts start appearing on their home screen. This is typically done from ad networks like Airpush or Leadbolt, and they can be incredibly annoying. AppBrain lists all of the known ad networks and then lists the apps that use them. This comes in handy when trying to find out which app is causing the headache, but stops short of telling users how to stop it. (Lookout Ad Network Detector is a similar app that provides opt-out information.) It’s also a little confusing because many of the ad networks listed only show advertisements within the app.

AppBrain Ad Detector is a good tool for learning more about the type of information that apps can access from your Android phone. It detects ad networks, social SDK’s, and developer tools used by each app, but it would be better if the app provided a little more clarity on why those apps perform that way. At the moment, the app is a couple of steps away from being an ideal privacy management tool, but we can only hope that it improves on this good start and takes those steps soon.