Got Pop-Up Ads on Android? How to Spot and Remove Them

Ads keep popping up on my phone. My Android device just suggested I buy a brand-new Audi, displaying a full-screen pop-up 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 pop-up 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 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.

Opting out was the best solution to combat this, although you might have preferred to alternative solutions to dealing with 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 Pop-Up Ads on Android?

Discovered your phone displays 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 swiping from the bottom and holding in the middle of your screen to enter the Overview screen. Swipe each app card to the side to discard (or use the X button to clear all apps if your version of Android supports it). Depending on your Android version, these steps might vary.

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 pop-ups 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.

How to Find Which App Is Serving Pop-Up Ads

In the course of my work, 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.

According to the implementation guidelines for the AdMob program, Google strongly discourages placing ads adjacent to interactive elements, sandwiched between app items, or overlapping with app content.

Furthermore, the company does not look kindly at apps and games that spam the user with ads. Google states:

“We don’t allow apps that spam users or Google Play, such as apps that send users unsolicited messages or apps that are repetitive or low-quality.”

You have two options for spotting pop-up ads.

1. Check Pop-Up 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 you didn’t realize was active, that’s a good time to long-press the notification and tap the More button. The button might have a different name depending on your phone model.

This will take you to the app’s permissions screen, where you can toggle what access it has to your phone’s hardware and features (such as notifications).

Further options can be found via Settings > Apps > Permissions > Permissions. Specific steps will vary depending on your phone model. Alternatively, you can open the Settings app and search for Permissions in the top search bar.

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 pop-ups.

When the pop-up ad appears, swipe up from the bottom of your screen and hold your finger in the middle of your screen to view the Overview screen (on some devices, you can tap the Recent apps on the bottom bar instead). You’ll be able to view cards of recently opened apps.

Check for unfamiliar app names. If you see one, long-press its card and tap the Settings icon to go to the app’s page. You can then uninstall the app directly from the next page.

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