Google pulled a number of popular Android apps from its Play Store because of a large-scale ad fraud scheme their developers were pulling off. Six of those apps were owned by the DU Group, a developer that spun off from Chinese tech giant Baidu a year ago. Baidu still owns 34 percent of the company. DU’s properties include an immensely popular Selfie Camera app that has been downloaded over 50 million times from Google’s Play Store. An Ad fraud researcher, Check Point, found that the app contains a code that causes it to automatically click on advertisements without the user’s knowledge.
The app doesn’t even need to be fired up by the user. The clicks happen even when the application is not running. This also causes battery drain and consumes data. This action happens with ads served with Google’s own AdMob and Twitter’s MoPub. This further shows how bad actors are exploiting Twitter’s ad platform. Back in March, a massive fraud scheme was reported that also exploited Twitter’s MoPub by hiding video ads behind legit banner advertisements.
Apart from fraudulently clicking on ads, the DU Group apps involved in the scheme — RAM Master, Omni Cleaner, Total Cleaner, Smart Cooler, and AIO Flashlight, aside from Selfie Camera — also hid their affiliation with the company. They also didn’t disclose they were collecting data and sending it back to China.
DU Group’s involvement in this fraudulent act was found after examining 5,000 popular apps on the Play Store. Many more apps involved in ad fraud were found, other than the six by DU Group.
Richard Kramer, a Senior Analyst at Arete Research said that Google needs to do more to solve the issue. “Ad fraud is the norm in China and Google should be doing more to prevent it, even if it would materially reduce sales”, he said.