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550+ Apps Removed From Google Play for Invasive Ads

550+ Apps Removed from Google Play for Invasive Ads
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Google exiled more than 550 Android apps and their developers from the Play Store and from its ad monetization platforms, Google AdMob and Google Ad Manager. Why? To eliminate ad fraud and purge all disruptive mobile ads.  (February 28, 2020)

Thursday’s action is one just one of Google’s routine store sweeping. In 2018 alone, Google Play deleted over 700,000 malicious apps, including Cheetah Mobile apps. 

While many of the fraudulent apps removed are relatively unknown, one high-profile affected company is Cheetah Mobile. 

In the wake of this news, Cheetah Mobile’s closing share price on the 21st of February decreased to $2.99, a 16.94% drop, and its market value dwindled to less than $430 million.

However, this was not the first time that Google took action against Cheetah Mobile. Cheetah Mobile first made ad fraud headlines in November, 2018 for being linked to ad fraud. In December, Google deleted the offender apps but did not ban the company itself totally until February 2020. All of Cheetah Mobile’s nearly 45 apps in Google’s Play Store were removed and banned from advertising activities in Google’s ad networks.

In Google’s statement made over a blog post, titled “Disruptive ads enforcement and our new approach” it was said that nearly 600,000 apps were removed from Google Play as they contravened Google’s disruptive ads policy and disallowed interstitial policy.  

Google defines disruptive ads as those that are displayed to users in unexpected ways, including impairing or interfering with the usability of device functions. This could take many forms, such as aggressive ads, blocking the screen, a large number of ads, or even ad stacking. 

There are also out-of-context disruptive ads that perhaps appear while you are using a navigation app or trying to make a call. Apart from the obvious annoyance element towards disruptive ads, there is also a safety issue, as disruptive ads might prevent vital functions, such as dialing emergency numbers. 

One can say that Google Play Store’s gates are wider when compared to Apple’s App Store, which oftentimes turns down new apps or updates. These lax policies result in both good and bad outcomes for both application stores. Regarding the vulnerability and security, there are some advantages iOS has over Android. One example is Android’s broadcast feature, which is also exploited in order to steal attribution for other paid or organic installs. This process is known as click injection.

While Thursday’s “nearly 600 apps” removal shows positive steps the company is taking towards security and transparency, it does raise questions regarding the authenticity of the existing 3 million apps in the Play Store. 

It is known that Google deletes apps that disrupt its policies. Last year, in April, some well-known apps such as DO Global and Cheetah Mobile were accused of ad fraud. Google banned DO Global but removed only offended apps of Cheetah Mobile. However, Cheetah Mobile continued its fraudulent activities.

Google says “it‘s only the beginning.” Fraudsters are hard at work on ad fraud and keep generating new sophisticated methods. Catching them relies on building new technologies to discover such frauds. A machine-learning approach that is able to detect out-of-context ads has led to Thursday’s decision.

Although Apple’s App Store’s rigorous process makes it slightly less vulnerable to mobile ad fraud than Play Store, it is still a target for fraudsters. 

However, while there is a slight gap between the rate of ad fraud traffic on iOS and Android, it is clear that they are both on an upward trajectory. In 2018, iOS was found to have an ad fraud rate of 26.9%, and this is projected to increase to 31% by the end of 2020. 

550+ Apps Removed from Google Play for Invasive Ads

Consumer cybersecurity awareness is certainly increasing. However, there are also many that are calling for a reform in mobile advertising and in the marketing industry. Google, in response to this, is ramping up efforts to detect and delete malicious apps and ad fraud. 

Mobile ad fraud loss is anticipated to reach $70 million per day by 2022. While Google continues to fight ad fraud, data and cyber security concerns, and businesses continue to attempt to deflect multi-million dollar ad fraud operations in-house, the fraudsters will continue to evolve.