TouchPal keyboard and other CooTek apps removed from Google Play for disruptive advertising
Google takes strong measures against apps on the Play Store which use sneaky methods for misutilization of permissions. Earlier this year, Google banished Du Global, the Chinese developer with more than 500 millions of downloads on its 100+ apps, from the Play Store and the AdMob network for intrusive ads. Google has now “temporarily” expelled another major developer – CooTek, the creator of the famous TouchPal keyboard – from the Play Store and its ad network after a report that its apps were found misusing permissions and displaying disruptive ads on host Android devices.
Last month, security company Lookout revealed that 238 of the apps published by Chinese developer CooTek come with adware baked inside them. This adware, called “BeiTaPlugin,” triggers ads when the smartphone is locked, not in use, or when the CooTek apps are not being used. While ads being shown out of the apps clearly violate Google Play’s disruptive ads policy, these ads are more intrusive and disruptive. Many users have complained of not being able to answer calls or use any other app “due to the persistent and pervasive nature of the ads displayed.”
The developers have attempted to hide the plugin among other components of the APK file by naming it as something similar to the app, in order to make the plugin inconspicuous. Apart from that, the extension of the plugin has been changed from Dalvik executable (.dex) to a .rec or .renc file type and further, it is AES-encrypted to ensure that its contents are not easily visible or accessible.
The revelation from Lookout came in June after which CooTek apologized for the adware and re-uploaded fresh versions of its apps on the Play Store. These apps were accepted into the Play Store after Google confirmed they were safe. But in a rather later analysis by the security firm and BuzzFeed News, it was found out that 58 of the 238 apps removed previously still have the malicious code.
CooTek denied these allegations via a press release, saying that it “reexamined its apps and found no evidence” to support the claims claims. However, BuzzFeed reports that Google has confirmed these findings, not only removing the 58 malicious apps from the Play Store but also removing the company from its mobile ads network. CooTek acknowledges that as a result of this suspension, its “ability to attract new users and generate revenue from Google Admob may be adversely affected.”
At the time of writing this, CooTek apps under Touchpal branding are not available for download on the Play Store but if you already have the app installed you may be able to use it without any issue (although, we don’t endorse doing so).