Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
Android lock screen is a simple place. Unlike iPhones, where unlocking is a two-step process, Android lock screens aren’t really designed to give you a moment to pause. You probably have an Android phone with some form of biometric authentication that even bypasses the lock screen entirely. At most, they check the always-on display for notifications, widgets, and other quick-to-view information. I’m happy with that. On my Galaxy S20 Ultra, I’ve set the lock screen to show things like now playing, weather, and notifications. That’s it. But there are companies out there trying to make our lock screens busier. Here’s why it’s a very bad idea.
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Who is messing with the lock screen?
Last week, TechCrunch reported that Glance, a company that customizes lock screens, is in talks with US carriers to roll out its services on Android phones in the country. Glance is essentially a complete takeover of your lock screen. A space that most of us don’t devote too much time to anyway. But see, something like Glance is designed to do just that – interact with your lock screen and possibly get redirected to other websites or the Google Play Store.
How much time do you spend on your lock screen in a day?
Glance promises to fill “Screen Zero” with “content for every interest”. What’s in it for you? If you haven’t guessed it yet, it’s the potential to make money by showing ads.
While the company claims their lock screens are “designed to simplify your life” and show you “what you’re going to love,” their primary goal is advertising. As of last week, Glance’s homepage was emphatically stating that it offers advertisers “unprecedented reach” and “authentic engagement.” After reports of the US launch surfaced and the backlash that followed, the company quickly changed its tone and removed those phrases from its website. You can review the changes made thanks to Wayback Machine. We also took a screenshot of the page as it originally looked – you can see that below.
In addition to those site changes that don’t inspire confidence, Glance recently published an article stating that it will be “a 100% opt-in platform in the US” and that “it’s not an ad platform “. It goes on to say that its “content and experiences are not consumer-generated, but rather curated through partnerships with world-class and trusted developers or media companies.” The company now advertises itself as a “smart interface, not an ads platform,” but notes in the same breath that consumers “can purchase products from merchants when the product drop of the day appears on the lock screen.”
The look isn’t new either. The Google-backed company has been around since 2019. It’s even working with a number of smartphone OEMs, including Realme, Xiaomi, Motorola, and Samsung, to bring its lock screen to their devices. You won’t see Glance on devices from these brands everywhere, but if you’re in countries like India and Indonesia, you might have come across the lock screens on your Android phone. For reference, on Realme phones, the feature is called “Realme Glance” or “Lock Screen Magazine”. It appears as “Wallpaper Carousel” on Xiaomi devices.
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With carrier partnerships in the US, people may have no choice but to have crapware like this included in their phones right away. Who says there won’t be more companies like Glance springing up in the future to litter our lock screens?
The harmful effects of a busy lock screen
For my part, I find the idea of constantly changing wallpapers or random live events playing on my lock screen pretty damn annoying. In fact, everything on the lock screen is a hurdle on the way to what I really want to do on my phone. Lock screen content is not only intrusive, it can also be undesirable. Especially if advertising companies have anything to do with it. The two images above are some examples of the type of ads that appear on a platform like Glance – yes, these images were selected from the company’s own website.
Imagine unlocking your phone in a meeting to see a random influencer selling lingerie pop up on the screen.
Imagine you’re in a meeting and a random influencer selling lingerie pops up on your phone’s lock screen. Well, I might be interested in buying good lingerie, but my lock screen is the last place I want to sell myself these things. The Internet has enough targeted advertising. I don’t need it to hijack a screen I open at least a hundred times a day with content I have no control over.
Sometimes advertising can also be quite deceptive. You know, the kind that sells something but shows what looks like a link to a pornographic website. Advertisers also resort to what’s commonly known as commercial switcheroo — ads that appear disguised as content but end up selling you something like aspirin. Yeah, keep that stuff away from me, I say.
No matter how much money I pay for a phone, this is absolutely unacceptable to me.
I’m not alone either. People on the internet are actively sharing tips on how to “disable Glance on my phone”. Reddit is also full of users looking for ways to disable Glance entirely. Going through any of these threads, it becomes clear that even after disabling Glance in a Realme phone’s settings, there is still an introductory page for the service on the lock screen. Complete removal requires knowledge of ADB commands, connecting your phone to PC and following several steps. No matter how much money I pay for a phone, this is absolutely unacceptable to me.
I understand that smartphone OEMs, especially in price-sensitive markets, need to run ads to balance the affordability of their devices. However, it is not the right way to clutter the lock screen with unwanted content.
Lock screen content doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It uses data, it invades privacy.
Lock screen content doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. Glance or an equivalent lock screen content service constantly gobbles up mobile or Wi-Fi data. This may not be okay for people with hard data limits. Unlike India, where I live, unlimited data plans don’t come cheap in the US. The cheapest one-line Verizon plan is $70 a month, while T-Mobile’s alternative will set you back $60 a month. Surely these data plans are better suited for more important things than lock screen content.
With all that data being consumed and the display working overtime, the phone’s battery life would suffer as well. And don’t even get me started on the privacy nightmare, something like Glance poses. The service drums up its content, but in the background, advertisers can target you based on your interests, location, language, handset data, and more. This is another deal-breaker for me, if not one of the most important.
Do you want content with ads on your Android phone’s lock screen?