Mobile security firm AdaptiveMobile has named and shamed a clutch of popular Android apps it believes have been using the 'growth hacking' technique to spam large volumes of invitations to the contacts database of installed users.
After conducting an analysis of US and Canadian app users, the firm said the practice had spiked eightfold by February 2014 compared to six months previously, fuelling a rise in aggressive marketing users often found difficult to opt out of.
The worst offenders included a number of communications apps such as video texting app Glide, messaging app Tango, photo app Pixer, and chat apps Meow and Skout. Glide alone accounted for 57 percent of the messages AdaptiveMobile detected while Tango sent 19.7 percent, making these by some distance the worst offenders.
To put this into perspective, Glide's traffic was ten times that of Facebook acquisition and market leader WhatsApp in the same period, the firm said.
"It's common to invite friends to new apps, but this shouldn't turn into spam," said AdaptiveMobile's head of data intelligence and analytics, Cathal McDaid "These apps take this principle above and beyond acceptable limits, subverting communications between friends and contacts."
Sometimes this kind of behaviour could be initiated in ways the user might not anticipate or notice. An example of this was Tango's feature of inviting contacts every time a user took a photo.
"The key to whether an SMS invite is welcome or viewed as spam lies in the application's user interface. Making it difficult for users to not send SMS spam invites is one reason behind the high level of app spam, " said McDaid.
"This will hurt a company in the long run not only by irritating consumers but, as we've seen with last week's Google announcement, it could also result in having an app being removed from an app store for not complying with terms and conditions."
A quick check confirms that many of these apps are indeed widely complained about on Google's Play store for spamming behaviour. This probably does explain why only days ago Google tightened its Developer Program Policies in a number of ways including outlawing unsolicited app promotion of this kind.
Google gave firms 15 days from 28 March to comply with this new regime or face expulsion from Play.