For a long time, the Play Store could be considered the wild west of app distribution, especially compared to Apple’s inherently more restrictive App Store. Google is working on improvements though and is becoming more stringent on app permissions, among other things. Still, we’re back with another ad fraud scheme right inside the Store, following in the footsteps of last year’s Cheetah Mobile investigation. Another Chinese app developer, DO Global, is alleged to have added code in its apps that automatically clicks on ads without users’ knowledge.
BuzzFeed News first brought these findings to light in collaboration with security researchers Check Point and Method Media Intelligence. They found out that the app developer in question is a spin-off from Chinese giant Baidu who only became independent last year. Its apps amassed more than 90 million downloads before Google removed the listings.
DO Global’s products are sketchy to look at in the first place. They’re all either replicating system functionality like camera and flashlight or promise to clean up your phone to make it faster, which will often actually end up slowing down phones. But look for yourself, these are the six removed apps: Selfie Camera, Total Cleaner, Smart Cooler, RAM Master, AIO Flashlight, and Omni Cleaner.
Do Global’s removal would mark one of the largest bans of a developer on the store, as the company previously had around 100 apps on the store at over half a billion installs, including several games under the name Do Global Games.
Since the removals began, all prior info has been removed from Do Global’s website and replaced with the company’s statement:
“In the past week, we have noticed a series of reports about our apps by the media,” it reads. “We fully understand the seriousness of the allegations. As such, 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.
“We would like to thank the media, our partners, and the public for their support. Moving forward, we will strictly follow relevant regulations and continue conducting a comprehensive review of our products. Lastly, during this process, we have caused misunderstandings and great concern due to our being unable to communicate in a timely manner and provide complete information. We offer our sincere apologies.”