Google Removes 16 Ad Fraud Apps

Google Inc. 100,83 -0,45 -0,44% has removed 16 apps from their Playstore that have been found to be performing ad (click) fraud. In addition they were casing users device battery’s to deplete and in some cases causing users to exceeded their data caps. Furthermore, these 16 apps had a combined install base of around 20 million.

The apps provided legitimate functions, including flashlight, camera, QR reading, and measurement conversions, security firm McAfee said on Wednesday. When opened, however, the apps surreptitiously downloaded additional code that caused them to perform ad fraud. From then on, infected devices received messages through the Google-owned Firebase Cloud Messaging platform that instructed them to open specific web pages in the background and select links to artificially inflate the number of clicks ads received.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson noted that all apps reported by McAfee had been removed. The representative went on to say: “Users are also protected by Google Play Protect, which blocks these apps on Android devices.” The spokesperson didn’t answer a follow-up question asking how the apps racked up 20 million installations if they’re blocked.

A point of clarification is needed in regards to the “follow-up question”. Google Play Protect is after the fact, meaning now that Google has removed these 16 apps they should no longer be active on users devices. What is more disturbing about this is the majority of these 16 apps were performing functions that are natively part of most modern versions of Android such as Flashlight and QR reading.

Sadly, some special interest groups and countries consider Google’s ability to control app installs (and subsequently blocking malicious apps) through Google Play as anti-competitive. Google is trying to keep their Android users safe and avoid unnecessary expenses (prematurely depleted batteries or data overages) as well possible malware/ransomware with their safeguards and encouraging users to install apps via Google Play. Apple Inc. 147,81 -0,50 -0,34% does the same thing and yet these same groups don’t go after them. Of course that is because Google’s Android has a much larger (and most commonly majority) of the market share.

We’ve seen what happens when there is not a centralized place for users to download and install apps. Microsoft Corporation 255,02 +0,33 +0,13% Windows is ripe with malware and ransomware as users download and install apps (sometimes legitimate apps which have been compromised) from third-party sites. Credit to Microsoft for trying to get some control over this and provide a safety net for their users with the introduction of S Mode in Windows 10 and 11.  Many Windows PC’s come with S Mode enabled by default which only allows the users to install apps through the Microsoft Store. This is great for those users who are not has tech or security savvy. For those advanced users, S Mode can be disabled to allow the installtion of apps from outside sources.

via arsTechnica