August 9, 2022
Enlarge / Glance’s ad copy promises “authentic engagement” with its lock screen billboard.

Glance

Android smartphones can be a rough market, and to squeeze as much profit out of a phone as possible, carriers often sell every square inch of a phone to the highest bidder. Packed-in, often un-installable crapware apps fill your app drawer and advertise their services. The rules are a lot looser for packed-in apps compared to Play Store apps, so data-hungry companies like Facebook often pay for a spot where they can more easily harvest data.

According to a report from TechCrunch, one new startup is inventing a new, more invasive form of crapware: lock screen ads. The company, “Glance,” is a subsidiary of Indian ad tech company InMobi, and TechCrunch reports the lock screen “content” company is “planning to launch its lock screen platform on Android smartphones in the US within two months.”

Glance’s app is a full-screen takeover of the lock screen. It looks a lot like a generic swipe-heavy 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 first presented with an auto-playing video from a popular off-brand TikToker, 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 move from seeking content to consuming what is shown to them.”

As a preinstalled app, Glance can collect lots of data.
Enlarge / As a preinstalled app, Glance can collect lots of data.

Glance

Of course, this is all just a big ad vector. The third major navigation link on the company’s website is “Advertisers,” where the business page promises “a friction-free campaign” on “screen zero”—the first screen users see when they turn on their phones. A quick browse through Glance’s “business” page shows it’s really hard to identify what’s paid content and what’s not. It might all be paid content. The advertiser page shows a range of “success stories” like a cryptocurrency quiz game promoted by a crypto app that “educated” users on cryptocurrency and boosted sales. Question No. 1 in Glance’s demo video: “Which of these assets gave more returns in 2020: Bitcoin, or Gold?” (Bitcoin is down 65 percent since the video’s November 2021 post date.)

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Glance also promises it can serve up a ton of personal data to advertisers for targeting and tracking. It lists demographics, their location, interests they’ve chosen in the app, what language they’re using, and 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.”