My Android device just suggested I buy a brand-new Audi, displaying a full screen popup advertisement to persuade me.
As someone who prefers to keep all manner of promotional materials, social networks, and malware off his phone, this came as something of a surprise.
One of my apps is serving ads. But which one is the malware? Here’s how to stop popup ads on Android.
Ads on Android: The Good Old Days
There was a time when ads on Android were big news. Remember Notification Area ads? They caused a bit of a storm when it became apparent that promotional messages would soon start appearing across the top of your phone’s display, with AirPush and SlingLabs just two of the companies making it possible for ads to appear there.
To combat this, opting out was the best solution, although you might have preferred to follow our solution to dealing with these Notification Area incursions.
With Notification Area ads (which can still impact users on older devices), it is straightforward to identify the app responsible thanks to its icon appearing next to the ad in Android 4.1 and later.
Note that the screenshots in this article feature standard, non-adware serving apps.
How Do You Stop Popup Ads on Android?
Discovered your phone is displaying an unnecessary volume of ads, whether in an app or on the home screen? It’s time to act.
The first thing you should do is close all your apps. Use the usual method of tapping the Recents button and swiping each app to the side to discard (or using the Clear All button if your version of Android supports it).
You might also opt to restart your phone, which may be quicker.
Next, check the apps you’ve installed lately, around the time that the popups first appeared. This might take some doing if you regularly install new apps and games.
When you spot likely offenders, head to Google Play and check the reviews of the app. Do any relate to surprise ads? If so, delete that app. But don’t stop there! Check all the apps you have recently installed.
Ways to Spot Which App Is Serving Popup Ads
In the course of my work for MakeUseOf, I install apps that I wouldn’t normally use. I’m more discerning than most; however, there is every chance that you’re using apps that are displaying ads that you’re putting up with, perhaps because you play a free game.
This is fair enough, if the ads appear in the game.
But what if the ads are popping up on the home screen with no warning? Putting it plainly, this is adware, a form of malware, and something that can take some work to trace.
As the Implementation Policies for the AdMob program state:
“Ads should not be placed in a location that covers up or hides any area that users have interest in viewing during typical interaction. Ads should not be placed in areas where users will randomly click or place their fingers on the screen.”
Furthermore, Google does not look kindly on apps and games that spam the user with ads:
“Apps where interstitial ads are placed after every user action, including but not limited to clicks, swipes, etc.”
You have two options for spotting popup ads.
1. Check Popup Ad Notifications
Recent versions of Android have made it easier to find out what is running on your device and what permissions the app uses. When you spot a notification for an app that you didn’t realize was active, that’s a good time to long-press the notification and tap the i button.
This will take you into the app’s permissions screen, where you can toggle what access it has to your phone’s hardware and features (such as contacts or the mobile network). Further options can be found via Menu > All permissions.
From here, you’ll find full details for the app, which should reveal any associations; alternatively, you might find that the app isn’t quite what you thought it was.
2. Check the Currently Open Apps
As well as the notification area, you can check your open apps to see which one is serving the popups.
When the popup ad appears, hit the Overview button (to the right of the Home button). As the open apps are shuffled into a “deck”, long-press the icon in the top-left corner of the popup ad.
This will result in the i button appearing in the top-right corner of the card. Again, tap this to access the app permissions.
Can’t Find the Offending App?
Perhaps the best option for anyone planning to use their phone or tablet without having to factory reset is to employ an anti-adware tool, a utility designed to detect ad-serving malware.
Ad Detect Plugin is probably the best place to start, a free app that will detect connections to ad networks from within your apps. You will probably already know that some of the results display in-app ads. What you’re looking for is anything that displays an ad on your home screen.
With this app, you can tap the information button to see what sort of ads are being displayed. From here, it’s simple to act from within the app to remove the offending software.
Download: Ad Detect Plugin
If you’re not already using a full mobile security app on your phone, then this is the best solution for dealing with the ads. Options here include ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.
Ad Network Detectors
You should also consider using an ad network detector. These apps are designed to detect connections between your phone and known ad networks and block them. This should put an end to popup advertisements on your phone.
Several strong options are available, but we believe you should take a look at AppBrain Ad Detector and Lookout Security & Antivirus (previously Ad Network Detector). Addons Detector, meanwhile, gives you the information to investigate what ads are being displayed by which apps, as well as where they are served from. This might not be particularly useful, but it’s certainly worth being aware that the information is available.
Deleting Ad-Serving Apps
For the best results, you should uninstall the app to get rid of the Android popup ads for good.
This is usually straightforward; just open Settings > Applications and long-tap the app. Select Uninstall to remove it.
Alternatively, tab Uninstall in the app info screen, or from the home screen or app drawer, long-tap and select Uninstall.
However, you might prefer a more extreme solution. The first would be to restore a backup of your phone taken before the evil ad-serving malware was installed.
Alternatively, you can initiate a factory restore to remove all apps and data from your phone, wiping it and starting from scratch. This might be the preferred option for most, especially if you’re particularly concerned by the ads that are being served.
Have You Had Adware on Android?
Popup ads on your Android device are annoying. They use your data allowance (though you may decide to only use Wi-Fi) and get in the way when you’re trying to use your phone.
Put simply, popup adware on Android is malware and you shouldn’t stand for it. If it’s just the latest of many problems with your phone and its apps, consider installing a custom Android ROM.