Online quiz tackles mobile-related malvertising

Shirley dent
Shirley Dent

Dr Shirley Dent is Senior Consumer Campaigns Adviser for PhonepayPlus, the UK regulator of premium rate telephone services, including phone-paid mobile apps and digital content.

In this article she describes a new initiative to raise awareness amongst consumers of malvertising that aims to make money through your cellphone bill.

PhoneBrainAn online quiz to help consumers spot digital malvertising that can result in unexpected mobile charges has been launched by UK regulator, PhonepayPlus.

The impetus for the quiz is simple. There has been a 44% increase over 3 months in complaints to PhonepayPlus related to digital quizzes and competitions that often use malvertising in their promotion.

Sign up to our free newsletter.
Security news, advice, and tips.

Premium rate quizzes and competitions promoted using malvertising have been the number one driver of complaints to the regulator this year, with young people particularly affected.

Such complaints have accounted for approximately half of all complaints to the regulator this year. Complaints involving under 16s account for 62% of the total.

Malvertising is a form of digital advertising and promotion that uses often sophisticated but misleading digital techniques. Malvertising techniques are most often deployed by unscrupulous affiliate marketers who are contracted to promote certain digital services and content.

The free-and-easy-to-use online quiz takes consumers through a series of quick questions and answers that clue them up on what to look out for and what action to take when engaging with seemingly innocent content online, as well as how to avoid other phone-paid pitfalls.

Take the quiz now and see if you know how to control your mobile phone costs.


Malvertising techniques used to promote phone-paid services or content that PhonepayPlus has taken action on include content locking and likejacking:

  • Content locking can occur where consumers seek to download content such as apps, films or music from a site and they find their browser locked until they proceed through a number of ‘forced’ steps to unlock the browser. Sites where pirated copyright material is made available can be particularly susceptible to content locking. In the cases PhonepayPlus has encountered, users were taken through a series of steps, including inputting their mobile phone number online, which was then subsequently used to send chargeable SMS text messages to their phones.
  • As the name suggests, likejacking manipulates the ‘like’ function on social networking sites so that users see links supposedly endorsed by their friends and contacts. Again, users can end up taking surveys where they are asked to input their mobile phone number, not realising that in doing so they are giving permission to charge to their phone.

PhonepayPlus has worked with social media providers such as Facebook to quickly take down rogue promotions.

In addition to this, the online quiz is part of PhonepayPlus’ education campaign about mobile, smartphone and tablet costs for young people and parents, PhoneBrain. PhoneBrain gives clear and helpful advice to young people, parents and teachers, with classroom and youth club resources available.

As it enters its sixth year and unveils a new website, the PhoneBrain campaign is speaking to young people – a hugely growing market for internet-ready devices – to warn them of the risks as well as offering practical advice when they engage with the digital marketplace and phone-paid services and content.

The new website has tips and advice on managing mobile phone costs and avoiding risks, as well as lesson plans for teachers, a competition and the online quiz. It is being promoted to schools and youth clubs nationwide, in partnership with Childnet International, Ambition and The Parent Zone.

Dr Shirley Dent is Senior Consumer Campaigns Adviser for PhonepayPlus, the UK regulator of premium rate telephone services, including phone-paid mobile apps and digital content. Shirley has written several reports on consumer use of mobile and connected devices for PhonepayPlus and commented in the national press on consumer issues.

One comment on “Online quiz tackles mobile-related malvertising”

  1. Stuart

    Shame that some of the answers in the quiz don't allow for intelligent answers such as "I deleted the message" being equally as acceptable as "investigate where it came from".

    Or that someone might actually know their network charges so don't need to look up costs.

    But in general terms of trying to educate the un-wary it's a good start.

What do you think? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.