Google is banning a popular Chinese developer from its Google Play Store and systematically removing dozens of its apps after BuzzFeed and security researchers discovered that the developer was committing ad fraud and abusing user permissions. The Chinese developer DO Global, which is partly owned by Baidu, was found to be producing fake ad clicks to gain revenue, among other fraudulent practices.
“We take our responsibility to protect users and advertisers seriously, and invest in tools and resources to fight fraud and abuse globally. We actively investigate malicious behavior, and when we find violations, we take action, including the removal of a developer’s ability to monetize their app with AdMob or publish on Play,” Google told The Verge in a statement.
Google didn’t officially confirm that it’s outright banning DO Global, but The Verge understands that the BuzzFeed report is accurate.
At least six apps were found by researchers to contain code for fake ad-clicking that would run in the background even when a user kept the app closed. DO Global previously had about 100 apps in the Play Store, many of them listed under other developer names, such as “Pic Tools Group.” BuzzFeed reports that 46 of them are now gone.
Check Point wrote in its research, “In a world where ad revenue can produce a very high income, it’s not surprising why malicious actors are after fraudulent activities against ad agencies. ‘Follow the money’ is a good rule of thumb while investigating a malicious campaign.” It looked into the apps after BuzzFeed contacted them, and after it published its findings last week, Google took action.
This isn’t the first time Google has had to remove a large batch of apps for violations. In January last year, Google deleted 60 games from the Play Store after Check Point found a malicious bug contained in the apps that displayed porn ads. Many of the games were aimed at children.