Persistent ads and even malicious spyware are a constant threat people face when downloading apps online. Now, Google has made an effort to clean up their Play Store for Android, deleting nearly 600 apps from the service for having these “disruptive” ads.
In a recent blog post, Google stated that it deleted the apps for breaching two of the company’s policies when it comes to these ads. The first was a policy directly relating to disruptive ads. The second rule was Google’s disallowed interstitial policy. As a result of breaking these rules, Google has removed the apps not just from the Play Store, but also from its ad monetization platforms, Google AdMob and Google Ad Manager.
Google defines disruptive ads as those that are “displayed to users in unexpected ways” and “results in inadvertent clicks.” These include pop-ups that take over a user’s entire screen, and have no clear way to dismiss them. Also included in this policy is a ban on ads that get users to inadvertently click on them. This includes ads that pop up when a user is taking a call or doing other actions.
Disallowed interstitials refer to a number of places where Google supposedly does not allow developers to place interstitial ads. This includes ads that appear when an app is first opened or when the user exits the app. Disturbingly, this also refers to ads that can pop up when an app is running in the background, or even when it’s not running at all.
To find these apps that broke these policies, Google used new AI-based algorithms that used machine learning. This innovation was developed to helped the company find and remove these erring apps from its store.
While Google’s efforts to clean up Android’s Play Store is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t cover up the fact that the tech giant has generally been less stringent in app security compared to its main competitor, Apple. While removing the 600 or so offending apps is a good thing, this number represents just a drop in the bucket of over three million apps that are currently available on the Play Store.
Alarming still is the source of the offending apps. A number of the busted apps came from developers who’ve been previously caught for having disruptive ads, most notable of which is the Cheetah Mobile. The China-based company had previously been exposed for ad fraud back in 2018. While Google had previously removed one offending app from Cheetah Mobile, this is the first time the former has removed the latter’s entire suite of 45 apps.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these developers have been able to continue to create apps with these ads until now. Google has been notoriously lax when it comes to protecting its users’ privacy. A study of Google’s Android operating system showed that it was inadvertently allowing apps and developers to track users without their permission. According to the study, over 1,300 apps on the Play Store had found ways to bypass the restrictions set by Google on tracking user’s data.
As with the apps from Cheetah Mobile, a number of these apps in that study also came from China-based developers. Unsurprisingly, a good number of the apps recently banned by Google also came from developers in China, alongside those from developers in Hong Kong, Singapore and India.
Google’s history shows that apps with similar disruptive practices and other privacy risks are going to continue to persist on the Play Store. As such, users should continue to remain vigilant when downloading any apps on their Android phones.