As a part of its efforts to detect and stop malicious developers that attempt to defraud the mobile ecosystem, Google has removed nearly 600 apps from the Google Play Store. These apps have also been banned from its ad monetisation platforms, Google AdMob and Google Ad Manager, for violating the company’s disruptive ads policy and disallowed interstitial policy. Google prohibits such ads that force users to click on them or trick them to submit personal information for advertising purposes.
‘We define disruptive ads as ads that are displayed to users in unexpected ways, including impairing or interfering with the usability of device functions. 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,’ Per Bjorke, Senior Product Manager, Ad Traffic Quality, said in a blog post.
Google calls this ‘an invasive maneuver’ that results in poor user experiences, which also disrupts key device functions. This approach generally leads to unintentional ad clicks that waste advertiser spend. For example, you may have come across several apps which suddenly serve you a full-screen ad, let’s say, when you are about to make a phone call. You mistakenly tap on the ad which takes you to another website. Now you have to shut the website, go back to the dialling screen and repeat the process.
‘Malicious developers continue to become more savvy in deploying and masking disruptive ads, but we’ve developed new technologies of our own to protect against this behaviour,’ Bjorke said. Google says that it recently developed a machine-learning based approach that helps the company detect when apps show out-of-context ads. It says that the new approach has led the company to enforce steps like removing such apps from its platforms. Google says that it will continue to invest in new technologies to detect and prevent emerging threats that can generate invalid traffic.
Not only those apps that deliver ads that are displayed to users in unexpected ways, Google has also been working to remove other harmful applications which allegedly spy on users. Recently, Google removed ToTok from the Google Play Store for the second time. In December, The New York Times reported that ToTok was a spying tool used by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to track users’ conversations, location and social connections.
Citing unnamed US intelligence sources, the report claimed that the app was tracking its users’ “every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound, and image.” The app was removed from the Google Play store in December and was reinstated in January. It was taken down earlier this week. In a note, ToTok has accused Google and Apple of impartiality and lack of fairness towards the developer community after both the platforms removed the app from their respective stores.
While ToTok has denied spying allegations, Google is sending Play Protect warning asking ToTok users to uninstall the app. ToTok, meanwhile, is asking its Android app users to ignore Google's warning and continue using the ‘entirely safe’ app ToTok. Above is a screenshot of Google’s warning on a Samsung phone. What’s interesting is that users with Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo phones can download the app from their phone maker's app stores. ToTok has also given a separate link so that users can install the ToTok app.