The Hidden Plays Behind Many Super Bowl Apps

31 Jan 2013
by David Jannetta
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The Hidden Plays Behind Many Super Bowl Apps

As AdWeek reports, mobile apps for The Big Game lure consumers to gain access to their smartphones and tablets

We’re less than one week away from the big game on Sunday where the Baltimore Ravens will take on the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Big Game is expected to attract about 80 to 90 million TV viewers, and is usually the most watched television program of the year. In fact, 2012’s Super Bowl XLVI holds the record for total number of U.S. viewers, attracting an average U.S. audience of over 111 million and an estimated total audience of nearly 167 million, making the game the most-viewed television broadcast of any kind in American history.

But today’s football fans aren’t just turning to their TV screens for all things Super Bowl. They are also turning to apps on their smartphones and tablets for game day information, and major brands and entertainment providers are spending some serious cash to get in front of this huge audience – wherever and whenever they are.

As these brands and entertainment providers put their marketing efforts in play to attract consumers before the football season ends, there is a growing concern that these entities are trying to pull more than impressions, installs and click-throughs. They may also be pulling information about consumers by accessing information stored on smartphones and tablets through apps.

IP Lasso looked at more than 200 football-themed apps with a combined install base of more than 2 million downloads, and the findings were alarming. For instance, we looked at NFL-team related apps for Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers from two different developers. Apps created by developer, YinzCam, Inc, had license agreements with the NFL-teams while apps from SpareTime Ventures did not. And both required people to grant various yet unnecessary permissions, much of which are buried in the fine print where consumers often neglect to fully read, before installing the app.

That means, when people turn to apps to track updates about their favorite Super Bowl team this year, what many don’t realize is that these apps may actually be tracking them. Once installed on phones, apps can pull private information, collect phone numbers, emails and even pictures to resell to third parties for profit.

Moreover, entities like the NFL may not even be aware of these practices when licensing their brand to app developers, which could damage their credibility among consumers. And we have found that developers of unlicensed apps tend to be one of the worst culprits of invading consumer privacy. We compared apps from both YinzCam, Inc. and SpareTime Ventures, and found that SpareTime Ventures had more access to consumer information stored on smartphones and tablets after its apps were installed.

SuperBowl graph

Other team apps that caught our attention came from Airborne Studios – “San Francisco 49ers Theme” and “Baltimore Ravens Theme”. Both cost consumers $1.99 to download, and are officially licensed by the NFL. Once installed, these two apps from Airborne Studios could make direct calls from the phone number associated with the device without any forewarning. Consumers may even have pay for additional service charges from their mobile carrier due to these practices.

There’s a growing concern about these app-practices since they may impact brand creditability and consumer’s privacy. We had even identified a growing number of counterfeit apps cloaked in NFL branding. These app-related schemes often go unnoticed by consumers or brands, since they happen in the darkest shadows of the mobile world. Like parasites, they infringe on trademarks and copyrights and invade to feed off sensitive consumer information stored on smartphones.

At first blush, they appear to be nothing more than a free app. But once installed on smartphones or tablets, they have unnecessary access to a wide range of consumer information. When looking further, we found that it was unclear how many of these developers were monetizing their apps, or advertising was primary source of revenue. The red flag here is that many brands may be unwittingly advertising or engaging with content that infringes on copyrighted materials or trademarks. We also found that there was little to no information provided about the developer – no website, profile or contact information.

49ers reviewTake team wallpaper apps from UnSync Soft and David Fridman for instance, which we believe illegally uses NFL-team logos and images to attract a greater number of mobile downloads to then access and sell private information of consumers. UnSync Soft makes a free wallpaper app called San Francisco 49ers Wallpapers along with several other free wallpapers, and in addition to violating copyrights and trademarks of the NFL team, it has permissions to access your location, email accounts and push mobile display ads.

The free Baltimore Ravens Wallpapers app from David Fridman not only taps similar information as UnSync Soft, it can also read and write Web bookmarks and history list. This means that the app may view your web browsing habits and plant icons on the main mobile screen that links to potentially dangerous websites. But as we mentioned, brands typically refuse to advertise or engage with content that infringes on copyrighted materials or trademarks. So the next question becomes who are these advertisers, and why are they okay with these unethical practices.

Now, just imagine giving a complete stranger access to your phone to track its location, phone numbers, text messages, web browsers, and more – all to receive a free app. Would you be willing to pay that price for a free app?

Consumers are the first line of defense in this battle against apps that invade their privacy, but the burden is too high for them to fight this war alone. Major brands need to also take action to not only protect their IP, but also their consumers. We believe the best line of defense here is to shine a light on this disturbing practice through monitoring services provided by IP Lasso. IP Lasso has already partnered with brands and entertainment providers including Universal Music Group to monitor these unnecessary practices, and help shut down “fake” apps that attempt to bait consumers.

IP Lasso has monitored the impact football-themed apps will have on consumers this season, and found that as fans turn to the smartphones for game day updates, they may get more than they bargained for. Our goal is to help brands and entertainment providers tackle this battle happening on smartphones, while Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers takes the field next Sunday for the championship title.

Want more? Read the full story in AdWeek here.

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