US carriers want to bring ‘screen zero’ screen lock ads to smartphones

Glance's ad copy promises "authentic involvement" with his billboard with lock screen.
enlarge Glance’s ad copy promises “authentic engagement” with its lock screen billboard.


Android smartphones can be a rough market and to get the most profit out of a phone, carriers often sell every square inch of a phone to the highest bidder. Packaged, often uninstallable crapware apps fill your app drawer and advertise their services. The rules are much looser for packaged apps compared to Play Store apps, so data-hungry companies like Facebook often pay for a place where they can more easily collect data.

According to a report by TechCrunch, a new startup is inventing a new, more invasive form of crapware: lock screen ads. The company ‘Glance’ is a subsidiary of Indian ad technology company InMobi, and TechCrunch reports that the lock screen ‘content’ company ‘plans 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’s a lot like a generic swipe-heavy social network, like TikTok or Snapchat Discover, but it only shows content from Glance. Imagine every time you turn on your phone, you get the first autoplay 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 pre-installed app, Glance can collect a lot of data.
enlarge As a pre-installed app, Glance can collect a lot of data.


Of course, this is all just one big ad vector. The third major navigation link on the company’s website is “Advertisers,” where the company page promises “a frictionless campaign” on “screen zero,” the first screen users see when they turn on their phone. A quick look at Glance’s ‘business’ page shows that it is very difficult to determine what is paid content and what is not. It can be all paid content. The advertiser page shows a series of “success stories”, such as a cryptocurrency quiz game promoted by a crypto app that “educated” users about cryptocurrency and boosted sales. Question #1 in Glance’s demo video: “Which of These Assets Delivered More Returns in 2020: Bitcoin or Gold?” (Bitcoin is down 65 percent since the video’s post date in November 2021.)

Glance also promises that it can provide a ton of personal data to advertisers for targeting and tracking. It includes demographics, their location, interests they chose in the app, what language they use, and phone model. Google is an investor canned. Glance lists Vivo, Motorola, Xiaomi, Oppo, Realme and Samsung as partners and says the company has “>80% coverage on all new smartphones” in India.

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