Never heard of the term “Ad Fraud“? Let me enlighten you a bit on Ad Fraud before I introduce you to the 8 popular Android apps that have been found guilty in recent times. Ad fraud (also referred to as Invalid Traffic) is concerned with the theory and practice of fraudulently representing online advertisement impressions, clicks, conversion or data events in order to generate revenue.
In 2004 Google’s CFO George Reyes said that fraud is the biggest threat to the internet economy with the first research paper covering the topic in 1999 or earlier and in 2016, World Federation of Advertisers published its first guidance on Ad fraud to advise its members on how to counter the problem allegedly eating close to US$20 billion of its members ad budgets in 2015.
Fast forward to 2018, eight popular Android apps with a total of more than 2 billion downloads in the Google Play store have been found of exploiting user permissions as part of an ad fraud scheme that could have stolen millions of dollars, according to research from Kochava, an app analytics and attribution company that detected the scheme.
Interestingly, seven of those apps Kochava found engaging in this behaviour are owned by Cheetah Mobile, a Chinese company which was last year listed on the New York Stock Exchange and accused of fraudulent business practices by a short-seller investment firm — a charge that Cheetah denied.
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The other app is owned by Kika Tech, another Chinese company that received a huge investment from Cheetah in 2016. The practice being executed by Cheetah and Kika is commonly referred to as click flooding and click injection which usually ensures these companies are rewarded an app-install bounty even when they played no role in an app’s installation.
According to Kochava, this particular scheme exploits the fact that many app developers pay a fee to partners that help drive new installations of their apps and after Kochava’s latest analysis, Cheetah and Kika apps tracked when users downloaded new apps and used this data to inappropriately claim credit for having caused the download.
However, Kika Tech’s US general manager, Marc Richardson has said the company “has no intentions of engaging in fraudulent practices” after being sent a video captured by Kochava of the Kika Keyboard app engaging in click injection and click flooding.
The companies claim more than 700 million active users per month for their mobile apps.