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Trying to make an Android appear to be an Apple

Just when does it help an Android app developer appear as if they are actually producing something for an Apple device? Billy MacInnes finds out

I was very intrigued by the ingenuity displayed by the developers of 22 mobile apps in the Google Play Market who opted to take their click fraud to another dimension in the pursuit of higher profits, as revealed in a posting by Chen Yu, senior threat researcher at Sophos.

We all know that Apple has traditionally enjoyed far higher margins than its rivals in the product markets where it operates. And no wonder, given that the initial cost for an Apple device, be it a phone, tablet, laptop or desktop, is usually higher than for a rival product. Apple’s arguments in favour of the price differential are well-rehearsed and, in any case, producing more expensive products doesn’t appear to have deterred too many people from buying them.

Anyway, because Apple products are pricier, there has long been an acknowledgement that advertisers will pay more for clicks from iPhone and iPad users than from their Android counterparts.

What Sophos discovered was that the developers of the affected apps, including one which had been downloaded more than a million times, weren’t just engaged in click fraud but they were also posing as Apple devices to advertisers “possibly in order to earn a premium return on their criminal activity”, Yu writes.

The apps included Andr/Clickr-ad code, “a well-organised persistent malware that has the potential to cause serious harm to end users, as well as the entire Android ecosystem”, adding that it is designed to “generate fraudulent re4quests that cost ad networks significant revenue as a result of the fake clicks”.

What is even weirder is that the developers engaging in this click fraud have apps available through the iTunes Store but, unlike their Android counterparts, the iOS apps “lack the ad-clicking functionality present in their Android counterparts”.

So they have Android apps that contain malware which pretends they are iPhone users in a bid to defraud advertisers out of more money but, for some reason, haven’t gone the whole hog with their genuine iOS apps. Why not?

Is it because they get a greater sense of satisfaction from exploiting advertisers to pay higher (iOS) revenues for fraudulent ad clicks when they’re using Android devices? It’s almost like a double reward for their fraud and you can see how getting iOS returns from iOS devices might well lose its lustre in comparison. After all, they’ve achieved what Apple and Android manufacturers haven’t managed to achieved: reaching the holy grail of Apple revenues on Android volumes.

This was last published in December 2018

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