Stacy Theobald
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Facebook sues app developer over malware-filled 'antivirus' app

Posted by @stacytheobald, Wed, Aug 7 2:25pm

The social media company filed a lawsuit against two app developers it says used malware-ridden Android apps to engage in “click injection fraud.” According to Facebook, the developer used malware embedded in its Android apps to fake clicks on ads to make money off unsuspecting users who downloaded their apps.

This lawsuit is the latest example of Facebook aggressively pursuing shady app developers who break its rules in the wake of Cambridge Analytica. But unlike Cambridge Analytica, which used ill-gotten Facebook data from a personality quiz app, it appears these developers were attempting some good old-fashioned ad fraud.

The apps in question came from Singapore-based JediMobi and Hong Kong developer LionMobi, and are marketed as calculator and anti-virus apps. But they also “installed malware designed to intercept ad-related data and inject fake clicks in order to deceive Facebook’s Audience network and Google’s AdMob into crediting the the apps for fake clicks that did not occur,” according to the lawsuit.

The two apps, “Power Clean – Antivirus & Phone Cleaner App,” and “Calculator Plus,” have been installed millions of times, according to their listings in Google’s Play Store. Both apps were still available at the time of publication. Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook didn’t say how much money the app developers made from these schemes, but it was apparently lucrative. During a two-month period in 2018, the “calculator” app generated more than 40 million ad impressions and 17 million clicks, according to the lawsuit. The supposed antivirus app generated fake clicks via Google’s AdMob.

Ad fraud is nothing new, and these kinds of schemes have been particularly prevalent in the Google Play Store for years. But the fact that Facebook is suing both developers in addition to booting them off of their platform signals how much more seriously the company takes app developers that break its rules. The company previously sued a South Korean app developer it says refused to cooperate with its investigation into its data policies.

“Our lawsuit is one of the first of its kind against this practice,” Jessica Romero, Facebook’s director of platform enforcement, said in a statement. “Facebook detected this fraud as part of our continuous efforts to investigate and stop abuse by app developers and any abuse of our advertising products.”

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