Over 1 million American Android users have downloaded adware

That's the claim from security firm Lookout, which claims that 6.5 percent of the free applications in the Google Play marketplace contain adware.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
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A look at adware's breakdown.
A look at adware's breakdown. Lookout

Adware has become a somewhat concerning issue on Android, a new study from security firm Lookout has discovered.

According to the security company, over the last year alone, over 1 million American Android users have unknowingly downloaded adware. What's worse, 6.5 percent of the free applications available in the Google Play marketplace now contain adware of some sort.

Adware isn't exactly the easiest topic to define, since there's a gray area between what's proper ad practice and what's not. However, Lookout says that there are a few key hallmarks that turn seemingly innocuous ads into adware:

  • The app displays advertising that's "outside of the normal experience;
  • The ad "harvests unusual personally identifiable information; or
  • The ad "performs unexpected actions as a response to ad clicks.

Adware has long been a concern for computer users. But with mobile device usage skyrocketing, advertisers -- and adware creators -- are focusing their attention on Android. Even worse, a report from Juniper Networks released earlier this week shows that mobile malware is up 614 percent in the last year, and 92 percent of all detected threats are running on Google's operating system.

To illustrate the impact adware is having on Android, Lookout provided some statistics on where Android users are most likely to find the annoyance. Lookout says that 26 percent of the free Personalization apps in Google Play contain adware. On the gaming side, 9 percent of the free programs have adware. Interestingly, social apps are least likely to contain adware, with Lookout finding just 2 percent of those free programs bundling adware.

"Questionable mobile advertising practices, such as adware, can get in the way of user privacy and experience, doing things like capturing personal information (i.e., email, location, address list, etc.) without proper notification and modifying phone settings and desktops without consent," Lookout said in a blog post on Wednesday. "While the majority of mobile ads are A-OK, as the industry grows, it needs to protect user privacy and excellent user experience."