Google has begun purging the Play Store of apps made by DO Global, a Chinese firm that makes Android apps and is partially backed by Baidu, after a BuzzFeed News report indicated it was committing massive ad fraud.
According to a separate report by BuzzFeed this Friday, dozens of DO Global apps had disappeared from the Play Store (46 at the time of the article) and its its apps also “no longer offer ad inventory for purchase via Google’s AdMob network, suggesting the ban has also been extended to the internet giant’s ad products.” BuzzFeed wrote:
Google would not comment specifically on the removals, but a source with knowledge of the action said the company was moving to ban DO Global overall, and that more app removals would follow.
“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,” a Google spokesperson said.
DO Global had around 100 apps on the Play Store with over 600 million installations before the bans began, and it claims to have more than 250 million monthly active users, according to BuzzFeed. This is thus one of the biggest crackdowns Google has ever launched against an app developer.
The company sent BuzzFeed a statement in which it acknowledged “irregularities” with its ad business and said they “fully understand and accept Google’s decision”:
“First of all, we would like to extend our thanks to Buzzfeed for your articles. We fully understand the seriousness of the allegations. Therefore, after reading the reports about our apps, we immediately conducted an internal investigation on this matter. We regret to find irregularities in some of our products’ use of AdMob advertisements. Given this, we fully understand and accept Google’s decision. Moreover, we have actively cooperated with them by doing a thorough examination of every app involved,” the statement said in part.
Researchers with security and ad fraud firms Check Point and Method Media Intelligence originally told BuzzFeed that they had discovered at least six of DO Global’s apps contained code designed to fraudulently click on ads (such as its popular Selfie Camera and Total Cleaner apps), which could additionally drain users’ batteries and run up data. Most of those apps also hid the developer’s identity from end users, displaying that they were developed by “Pic Tools Group (Photo Editor& Photo Grid&Collage)”. According to BuzzFeed, researchers also said the Selfie Camera app had code that could enable app attribution ad fraud, which would allow the developers to falsely claim reward payments for enabling downloads of other apps, and a bevy of other unrelated functions not revealed to users.
BuzzFeed had previously alleged that Chinese companies Cheetah Mobile and Kika Tech, which collectively claimed over 700 million monthly active mobile users, were engaging in ad fraud schemes at a massive scale. Another one of its investigations uncovered what it called a sophisticated ad fraud scheme “involving more than 125 Android apps and websites connected to a network of front and shell companies in Cyprus, Malta, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere,” with losses potentially in the hundreds of millions.
In March 2019, some 200 apps on the Play Store were found to have been infected with a strain of malware dubbed “SimBad” by Check Point, with over 150 million reported downloads.