Android smartphones can be a tough market, and to get the most out of a phone, carriers often sell every square inch of a phone to the highest bidder. Built-in and often uninstallable crapware apps fill your app drawer and advertise their services. The rules are much looser for built-in apps compared to Play Store apps, so data-hungry companies like Facebook often pay for a place where they can more easily harvest data.
According to a report from TechCrunch, a new startup is inventing a new, more invasive form of crapware: lockscreen ads. The “Glance” company is a subsidiary of Indian ad-tech firm InMobi, and TechCrunch reports that the lock screen “content” company “plans to launch its lock screen platform on Android smartphones. in the United States within two months”.
Glance’s app is a full-screen takeover of the lock screen. It looks a lot like a generic social network, like TikTok or Snapchat Discover, but it only shows content from Glance. Imagine if every time you turned on your phone, you were presented with an auto-playing video of a popular off-brand TikToker for the first time, and you get the idea. The company‘s website promises “unparalleled reach” and “authentic engagement” from its captive audience. Naveen Tewari, Founder and CEO of InMobi, gave a rather dystopian description of his company’s strategy to Forbes India, saying, “Consumers will shift from seeking content to consuming what is shown to them.”
Of course, all this is just a big publicity vector. The third major navigation link on the company’s website is “Advertisers”, where the business page promises “frictionless campaigning” on “screen zero” – the first screen users see when they turn on their telephone. A quick browse through Glance’s “business” page shows that it’s really hard to identify what is paid content and what isn’t. This could all be paid content. The advertiser’s page features a series of “success stories,” such as a cryptocurrency quiz promoted by a crypto app that “educates” users about cryptocurrency and drives sales. Question #1 in Glance’s demo video: “Which of these assets gave the most returns in 2020: Bitcoin or gold?” (Bitcoin is down 65% since the video was posted in November 2021.)
Glance also promises that it can provide a ton of personal data to advertisers for targeting and tracking. It lists the demographics, their location, the interests they have chosen in the app, the language they use, and the phone model. Google is an investor in Glance. Glance lists Vivo, Motorola, Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme and Samsung as partners and says that in India the company has “>80% reach on all new smartphones”.