A lot of apps monetise themselves with ads and unfortunately that can lead to some dodgy practices by some developers in the process of delivering ads to the user. One of the Play Store’s bigger developers, CooTek, has been banned from the Play Store for the way they deliver ads.
Buzzfeed are reporting on an investigation by security company Lookout into the CooTek apps which demonstrates some shady practices in their apps’ ad behaviour. Lookout found that 238 of CooTek’s apps used an adware plugin, BeiTaAd, which triggered disruptive ads no matter what state the phone was in — asleep, locked or even when the CooTek app was not in use.
Lookout stated that these ads are not new the ads “served by this plugin render the phones nearly unusable”. They state that some users “have been unable to answer phone calls or interact with other apps due to the persistent and pervasive nature of the ads displayed.”
CooTek, after being caught out and apologising, removed the plug-in and uploaded new versions of the app which Google accepted back into the Play Store. Unfortunately it seems that Google’s checking was haphazard at best and further investigation by Buzzfeed and Lookout found that 58 of the new “clean”, updated apps contained code that continued the same malicious ad activity which they were banned for in the first place.
CooTek once again updated their apps but it was too late — they had been busted. CooTek this time denied all nefarious activity in their new apps. They admitted to reusing some of the code in the old apps but that was to “implement normal features” in the app.
Unfortunately for CooTek Google came down on the side of Lookout (and Android users) confirming that the original “updated” apps once again produced disruptive ads.
Google have now removed all CooTek apps from the Play Store but it is a concern that it took a third party to alert Google to these issues. You would think that Google would check apps closer when they are resubmitted after shady ad practices in the first place.
Our Google Play developer policies strictly prohibit malicious and deceptive behaviour, as well as disruptive ads. When violations are found, we take action.A Google spokesperson
If you have any CooTek apps on your devices keep an eye on them and maybe steer clear of them, at least until they are fixed. Being listed on the New York Stock Exchange you would expect this to hit them in the hip pocket in a big way and as such a fix should be on the way quickly — but then they have already have one chance to remove the ad delivering code and failed to do so. Can you trust them anymore?
Head on over to the Lookout website if you want to see which apps are affected because you won’t be able to find them on the Play Store any time soon.