Six apps have reportedly been removed from the Google Play Store after a Buzzfeed investigation found that they were involved in ad fraud. The apps, which were all tied to Chinese app developer DU Group, were fraudulently clicking on ads and didn’t disclose to users that they were sending their data to China.
The DU Group apps collectively had over 90 million downloads. This includes the massively popular Selfie Camera app, which has over 50 million downloads. Researchers reportedly found that this app had code that not just clicked on ads to generate revenue without the user’s consent, but could do so without the app running. This is a huge battery suck and an egregious violation of Google’s Play Policy. When contacted by Gizmodo, a spokesperson for Google confirmed that the 6 apps have been suspended from Google Play for policy violations, including ad fraud.
It is also against Google’s developer policy to hide an apps connection to its developer, which the DU Group apps did, and to not inform users that it’s collecting and sharing their data. All of the six apps flagged for engaging in ad fraud—Selfie Camera, Omni Cleaner, RAM Master, Smart Cooler, Total Cleaner, and AIO Flashilight—have been blacklisted.
“Beyond questions of legal compliance, companies need to stop exploiting people’s data,” Frederike Kaltheuner, the data program lead of Privacy International, told Buzzfeed. “What happens to your data matters, because it can be used against you or for purposes that you fundamentally disagree with. At the moment you often have to [be] an expert to understand what happens to your data — with whom it’s shared, sold, and by whom it’s exploited. That’s a huge problem.”