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

Galen Gruman | July 14, 2014
First, Google put ads in Android KitKat's home screen, now you can get an app to put them on your lock screen; and people do

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. Amazon.com hopes you're such a person; its new Android-based Fire Phone is all about selling you stuff 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, 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 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 assending you mobile coupons and alerts 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, 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.)

 

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