Google reacted severely against nearly 600 Android apps in Play Store that were violating two ad-related policies by kicking them out of the repository.
On Thursday Google confirmed it has removed nearly 600 Android apps from the Google Play Store and banned them from its ad services for violating its policies on disruptive advertising and interstitials.
The two principles infringed ensure smooth user experience and help combat mobile the many forms of ad fraud, including harmless apps that disobey the rules.
When referring to disruptive ads, Google describes them as displayed in a way that could cause the user to click them unintentionally.
“Forcing a user to click an ad or submit personal information for advertising purposes before they can fully use an app is prohibited,” reads the policy.
“We define disruptive ads as ads that are displayed to users in unexpected ways, including impairing or interfering with the usability of device functions,” said Per Bjorke, senior product manager for ad traffic quality in a blog post.
“While they can occur in-app, one form of disruptive ads we’ve seen on the rise is something we call out-of-context ads, which is when malicious developers serve ads on a mobile device when the user is not actually active in their app.”
Trouble in Google Play Store
This is not the first time adware apps have been removed from the Google Play Store. Back in 2018, Cheetah Mobile was accused of turning smartphones into stealthy click farms to engage in ad fraud, leading Google to ban a bunch of its apps from the Play Store.
Google has a strict policy with regards to adware and disruptive ads in general. “We don’t allow apps that contain deceptive or disruptive ads. Ads must only be displayed within the app serving them. We consider ads served in your app as part of your app. The ads shown in your app must be compliant with all our policies.”
The internet giant has also been leveraging Google Play Protect as a means to secure devices from potentially harmful applications by combining a mix of on-device protections and a cloud-based machine learning infrastructure to routinely scan apps, detect malicious apps faster and at a larger scale without any human supervision.
But the app storefront has come under criticism in recent months for its failure to rein in malware-laced apps, which have been installed by millions of users without realizing their insidious nature.
Although Google Play Protect has “detected and removed malicious developers faster” — over 790,000 policy-violating app submissions were blocked before they were even published to the Play Store in 2019 alone — it seems powerless against what appears to be a steady pattern of potentially harmful apps bypassing its security checkpoint, highlighting the scope of the problem.
In response, Google also forged an “App Defense Alliance” in partnership with cybersecurity firms ESET, Lookout, and Zimperium, an initiative that aims to reduce the risk of app-based malware, identify new threats, and protect smartphone users from bad actors leveraging the platform for their gain.
To safeguard yourself, the same rules of security hygiene apply: stick to the Play Store for downloading apps and avoid sideloading from other sources. More importantly, scrutinize the reviews, developer details, and the list of requested permissions before installing any app.