Google Play removes Cheetah Mobile-backed apps for ad fraud

Google has removed two popular Chinese apps from its Play Store, including one run by Beijing-based internet company Cheetah Mobile.

The firm’s document management app CM File Manager (in Chinese), according to Google’s internal investigation, was removed for allowing click flooding.

Also known as click spamming, the technique allows fraudsters to use an app to steal users and attribute the installation to itself. If a user clicks a link but doesn’t intend to download an app, the click could be redirected to another app or malicious download. Reward fees will then be paid to partners who assisted in generating fake user traffic and downloads. The accusations were first published by Buzzfeed News.

Chinese communication and emoji tech company Kika, which is backed by Cheetah Mobile, had its Kika emoji keyboard removed from Google Play for similar reasons.

Last week, mobile app analytics firm Kochava said that seven of Cheetah Mobile’s apps were involved in ad fraud. The company said it could sue Kochava in light of what it deemed to be false accusations.

Cheetah Mobile has also been called out by Shanghai’s Consumer Council for weak user privacy protections in its CM browser. The app needed permissions that were unrelated to its functions.

The company hasn’t issued a response to the removal of its app.

Established in 2010, New York Stock Exchange-listed Cheetah Mobile reported a 15.6% year-over-year total revenue growth to RMB 1.4 billion ($196.9 million), as of the period ended September 30. The company’s average number of mobile monthly active users for the period was 535 million globally, around 68% of which were users outside China.

In 2015, the company also set up a Global Ad Platform to bridge the gap between digital marketers and consumers.