It is not the first time that Cheetah Mobile has been accused of suspicious activities in the Play Store. The Chinese application developer is no stranger to the controversy but now accused of large-scale advertising fraud. The analysis company Kochava says that eight applications, seven of which belong to Cheetah Mobile and among which is Clean Master, track the new application facilities and claim credit for them.
The applications in question have more than 2 billion downloads and more than 700 million active users. Some of them, like CM Launcher 3D, are also promoted on Google Play, as “startup applications.”
According to Kochava’s research, fraudulent activity is achieved through the excessive permissions that these Cheetah Mobile applications require. They track users’ downloads and falsely claim credit for promoting the installation of a new application. Why is that important? Because developers often receive bonuses or “rewards” for referring users to install other apps that appear in the ads that appear in their content.
The usual reward can range between 50 cents and 3 dollars. It is not difficult to imagine that with applications with billions of downloads, Cheetah can obtain enormous benefits through this scheme of advertising fraud. Also, it is very unethical because it removes the potential income of the smallest developers.
The seven Cheetah applications that Kochava pointed to when they spoke to BuzzFeed News were: Clean Master, CM File Manager, CM Launcher 3D, Security Master, Battery Doctor, CM Locker, and Cheetah Keyboard. The eighth application from a different developer – Kika Keyboard, is also on the list which is financially connected with Cheetah Mobile.
Both Cheetah Mobile and Kika have responded to the allegations with the claim that they were unaware of the existence of such practices.
Too many permissions
As mentioned above, it is suspected that application permissions play a vital role in the scheme. Many Cheetah Mobile applications have the ability to track keystrokes, record audio, take photos and see when and what other apps are installed, etc. Speaking on BuzzFeed News, Sharma, CTO of the Methodology Intelligence advertising fraud research firm, called them “wildly overperformed.”
He also stated that the applications pose grave privacy problems: “The fact that you have applications with such a high level of permissions, you have applications from companies that are based in China and that gather so much information, they are registering everything, so from the point of privacy are violating many things.”
Google still has to make a statement about whether the applications will be investigated or whether they will be allowed to remain in the Play Store.
What do you think? Do you use any of the mentioned applications or other Cheetah Mobile applications? Let us know in the comments.