BuzzFeed News reports that there was a network of more than 125 fraudulent websites and Android apps that followed the behavior of millions of users and committed millions of dollars with advertising revenue. Google confirmed this.
BuzzFeed News concluded on the basis of their own research that there were all kinds of apps that used Google’s mobile advertising network. It was a botnet called TechSnab that generated fake internet traffic. Through real-looking, fraudulent apps, downloaded by millions of users, the fraudsters studied user behavior and created bots that mimicked the behavior of real users, allowing them to bypass detection.
The fake traffic delivered views, resulting in revenue. Hence perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars have been stolen from different brands, whose ads have only been shown to bots instead of real users. Google thinks for the time being that less than 10 million dollars worth of fraud can be related to its own advertising platform. According to the company, most of the ads placed in the apps and websites in question were from other large advertising platforms.
BuzzFeed News reports based on data from the AppBrain service that the identified apps have been installed more than 115 million times on Android phones. This includes game apps, but also apps for a flashlight function or making selfies. One of the fraudulent apps, EverythingMe, has been installed more than 20 million times.
Google says that, based on a list of fraudulent apps and websites provided by BuzzFeed News, it has removed more than 30 apps from the Play Store in total. Also, multiple publisher accounts would have been removed from the ad networks. Google is currently continuing to investigate the network of fraudulent advertisements. The company would have removed ten apps from the network before BuzzFeed News informed Google.