The so-called “abandoned” apps pose major security and privacy risks to users as they remain installed on devices and continue to collect personal information.

According to a new report by fraud protection platform Pixalate, abandoned apps pose risks to consumer privacy particularly since they do not incorporate bug fixes and the latest changes to data collection practices.

“The longer an app goes without a software update, the greater the risk that the app’s consumer data handling practices are not up-to-date with the world’s rapidly-evolving privacy protection regulations.”

An app is considered abandoned if it has not been updated in at least two years.

The report revealed that there were more than 1.97 million abandoned apps across Google Play and Apple App Store in the first quarter of the year, an increase of more than 16% year-over-year.

The number of super-abandoned apps, those that haven’t received an update in over five years, reached over 401,000, an increase of more than 62% compared to Q1 2022 across Google Play.

However, these apps saw a 38% decline YOY in Apple Store, down to around 200,000.

More Than 4.5M in Ads Spent on Abandoned Apps

The report found that abandoned apps can also be a significant drain on advertising budgets, with the estimated programmatic ad spent on these apps reaching over $4.6 million in Q1 2023.

While this is still a large sum, it represents a 53% YoY decrease from $10 million in Q1 2022.

The report also examined the prevalence of abandoned apps worldwide, finding that 45% of apps registered in Russia are abandoned, 41% in China, and 37% in the U.S.

Another alarming finding was a more than 107% YoY increase in abandoned apps with ads transmitting geo-location and user IP address in ad bid stream, which highlights the potential for abandoned apps to not only collect personal information but also transmit this information to advertisers.

In the case of child-directed apps, the report found that 49% of likely child-directed apps are abandoned, and 27% are “super-abandoned,” meaning they have not been updated in over five years.

The Apple App Store was also found to have a significant number of abandoned apps, with 49% of likely child-directed apps and 27% of all apps being abandoned.

How to Protect Against Abandoned Apps

The risks posed by abandoned apps are significant, and protecting against them requires a multi-faceted approach.

One of the simplest ways to protect against abandoned apps is to regularly review the apps on your devices and remove any apps that you no longer use or that appear to be abandoned.

This can help reduce the risk of data collection by these apps and prevent potential security breaches.

Furthermore, before downloading a new app, users need to take the time to review the app’s privacy policy and check its reviews to ensure that it is not abandoned and has a good reputation.

Users also need to only use app stores that have good regulation and approval processes in place for the apps they allow on their platform.

Finally, advertisers should invest in ad verification to ensure that their ads are not being placed on abandoned apps or sites that could potentially pose a risk to their advertising budgets and brand reputation.

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