- Google removed almost 600 Android apps from its Google Play app store and banned their developers from its ad monetization platforms, Google AdMob and Google Ad Manager, for violating its policies against "disruptive" mobile advertising and fraudulent activity, the company announced in a blog post.
- Cheetah Mobile, a publicly traded Chinese company whose apps include "Clean Master" and "Security Master," was the biggest company banned from Google Play and its ad networks, BuzzFeed News reported. Google in December had removed one of Cheetah's apps, a week after a study found that eight apps with more than 2 billion downloads had engaged in an alleged ad-fraud scheme, per a separate BuzzFeed News report.
- Google developed a machine-learning technology to detect when apps show "out-of-context" ads, leading it to enforce its policies against disruptive ads and disallowed interstitials, Per Bjorke, Google's senior product manager of Ad Traffic Quality, wrote in the blog.
Google's latest action to crack down on apps that violate its policies indicates that the company has become more vigilant about allegedly fraudulent activity that robs mobile marketers of possibly billions of dollars in wasted ad spend. Mobile ad fraud can come in many forms, including invalid traffic (IVT), click injection, click spamming, ad stacking, app spoofing and background ad activity, according to mobile ad-tech firm InMobi. Because fraudulent activity comes in many forms, estimates of the total cost to advertisers can vary from $5.8 billion to $42 billion or more a year. To improve the integrity of the mobile advertising market, Google must keep improving its methods to prevent fraudulent activity.
"Mobile ad fraud is an industry-wide challenge that can appear in many different forms with a variety of methods, and it has the potential to harm users, advertisers and publishers," Google's Bjorke said in the blog post. "We take action against those who create seemingly innocuous apps, but which actually violate our ads policies."
Google has procedures to warn app developers that they will be banned if they don't comply with its policies before taking enforcement actions, BuzzFeed News reported.
The crackdown by Google may adversely affect Cheetah Mobile's ability to attract new users and generate revenue going forward, the company said in a press release. Cheetah, which generates approximately 22% of its revenue through Google, said it is appealing the decision but expects the process could take some time and it cannot guarantee its appeals will be successful. Cheetah's stock was trading down 5.9% following the news of Google's ban.
Google describes "disruptive ads" as any paid announcement that appears in "unexpected ways." Ads that impair or interfere with the usability of device functions are considered disruptive. Google also has seen an increase in "out-of-context ads" that are served on a mobile device when the user isn't active in the app, per its blog.
While Google has systems to detect fraudulent activity, mobile marketers also need to take steps to protect themselves. That may mean working with a third-party authentication service that can help to detect possibly fraudulent activity. Marketers also can insist that mobile apps comply with IAB Tech Lab standards to guard against some kinds of fraud. The group's ads.txt project consists of a list of companies that are authorized to sell their products or services, was extended to mobile apps with app-ads.txt.