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More adware! Google deletes dozens of apps with over half a billion installs

The sun comes up, the sun goes down. Bad apps are found on the Google Play Store, bad apps get removed. Repeat.

It’s become all too common for malware and adware-filled apps to be discovered on the Play Store. Sure, they eventually get removed, but it seems like Google doesn’t actually do too much to prevent them from getting into the store in the first place.

This time, it’s different – and on a much larger scale. Google just deleted not only dozens of apps that have been downloaded hundreds of millions of times, but kicked the developer out, too. Time to check your phone.

Business as usual on the Google Play Store

I could point out all the waves of problematic apps removed from the Google Play Store, but no one has time to read through all that. So let’s just look at some of the highlights from this year alone, keeping in mind it’s not even quite May yet.

Back in mid-January, a bunch of remote control apps were found to be fake and full of adware but not before they were downloaded to about 8 million Android devices. About a month later, an app was discovered containing “clipper” malware.

We couldn’t even get to March without another issue. Malicious code known as “DrainerBot” infected hundreds of apps that were downloaded about 10 million times.

 

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Although this one isn’t adware or malware-related, it was just a few days ago when a hotspot-finding app was found to be keeping millions of plain-text passwords in an unprotected database. Then there’s this latest problem …

Apps being removed by the dozens

This latest case of magically-disappearing apps was spurred by a recent BuzzFeed News investigation into a Chinese Android developer called DO Global. They found that the developer was both committing ad fraud and intentionally keeping details from users. Nice.

At the time of the initial report, they found at least six apps developed by DO Global with code that would make the app fraudulently click on ads, even when people weren’t using the app. These were apps with generic names like Selfie Camera, Pic Tools Group and Total Cleaner. On a side note, DO Global is partially owned by Baidu, which is basically the Google of China.

But what makes this worse than the run-of-the-mill issues on the Google Play Store is that this particular developer has, or at least had, about 100 apps with over 600 million installs. Those are much bigger stats than the typical crop of bad apps.

 

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As of this past Friday, Google was bringing down the hatchet and had removed nearly 50 of those apps from the Play Store. And according to Buzzfeed’s report, they’re looking to ban DO Global – completely. A pretty solid sign that’s the path they’re taking is it looks like DO Global was also kicked off Google’s AdMob Network, its big mobile ad service.

If true, that could constitute one of its largest bans ever. It also signals Google isn’t shying away from straight-up banning developers, like it had avoided doing in the past.

Check your device for bad apps

Since DO Global went to the trouble of hiding its identity in a lot of these apps, there’s no full list to work with. A lot of times, you have to look for signs that your smartphone is having a bad reaction to malicious apps. And there are tells.

With these infuriating ad-clicking apps, the big side effects to look for involve your battery and data. Is your battery draining faster than usual, or your device much warmer to the touch? Are you going through a lot more mobile data than you should be? Maybe you’ve noticed your phone is sluggish and pretty unresponsive.

The first thing you can check is which apps are using a lot of data. On a typical Android phone, go to Settings >> Network and Internet >> Data Usage >> App Data Usage. If you see any using an unusually high amount of data and you don’t know why, your best bet is to uninstall it.

Just to reiterate: this is a huge number of apps and potentially-impacted users, even for the Google Play Store. But just the fact that there’s yet again more adware on the store? Par for the course.

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