The Week in Mobile: October 21-26, 2018

Google Play turns 10, scammy Android apps steal millions of ad dollars, new exploit allows developers to track app uninstalls & more

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content about the fast-paced, quickly changing world of mobile technology. We tell you which companies are employing clever mobile strategies, illuminate new ways of thinking about mobile and offer a peek at meaningful trends in the industry — all to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

Google Play Store: 10 Years Later

As Google Play Store celebrates its 10th anniversary, it dominates the marketplace when it comes to app downloads. According to a new report from App Annie, Google Play generated twice the number of downloads as the iOS App Store last year (commanding a 70 percent share of global downloads). Despite those downloads, Google Play accounts for only 34 percent of worldwide consumer spend on apps to 66 percent from the App Store.

TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez writes: “Those numbers are consistent with the narrative that’s been told about the two app marketplaces for some time, as well. That is, Google has the sheer download numbers, thanks to the wide distribution of its devices — including its reach into emerging markets, thanks to low-cost smartphones. But Apple’s ecosystem is the one making more money from apps.”

Google Play was originally released in October 2008 as Android Market. For more details on Android over the years, read the full report here.

Scammers use Android Apps to Steal Millions of Ad Dollars from Marketers

Google is dealing with the fall-out from a sophisticated ad fraud scam involving over 125 Android apps and hundreds of millions stolen ad dollars. According to Buzzfeed, scammers purchased established apps from developers and then tracked user behaviors to create a “vast network of bots” generating fake traffic and duping marketers out of millions of dollars for in-app ads.

“According to the big G’s findings, around $10 million had been accrued through fake views from marketers. But fraud detection firm Pixalate (which first spotted the scheme in June) puts the figure at $75 million per year,” reports Engadget’s Saqib Shah.

The fraudulent apps were downloaded more than 115 million times. Google began removing them from the Play Store last week, but the Verge notes some apps such as EverythingMe (which has 20 million installs) are still available.

Apps Can Track Users Even After Being Deleted

Developers are using an exploit to track users even after they’ve uninstalled an app. So-called commercial uninstall trackers leverage “silent push notifications” to trick iOS and Android to covertly track who has deleted an app. If the silent push notification isn’t received by the user, the app makers will assume it has been uninstalled, and can then send targeted ads in hopes to win them back.

Bloomberg’s Gerrit De Vynck explains: “Uninstall tracking may violate Apple and Google policies against ad-focused use of their mobile developer tools, but so far the companies haven’t taken action.”

Hello, Hardware…

The end of the year may be fast approaching, but there is still more hardware to look forward to from Samsung, Apple and others.  

  • Samsung teased a potential reveal for its foldable smartphone next month. The company shared a tweet detailing its upcoming developer conference as “the crossroads between the present and the future” alongside an animation of two lines unfolding into a right-facing arrow. The conference takes place in San Francisco on November 7th.
  • Apple has now set a date for its second fall hardware event. While the company already debuted a new lineup of iPhones and the Apple Watch Series 4, 9to5Mac’s Zac Hall writes: “This time around Apple is expected to show off two redesigned iPad Pro models, a new MacBook, and likely other updates to the Mac line.” The event will take place October 30th in New York City.
  • HTC’s blockchain phone, the Exodus 1, is now available for preorder. The Verge’s Shannon Liao writes, “and yes, you have to pay for it in cryptocurrency.” Exodus 1 houses a wallet that HTC claims is “protected from the Android OS” for storing keys to cryptocurrency and tokens. It is expected to ship in December.

Snapchat Helps Register 418,000 Voters

Snapchat says its social campaign helped register 418,000 Americans to vote in the span of two weeks. The company told the New York Times that much of the activity “was in key battleground states like Texas, Florida and Georgia.” Snapchat added a button to user profile pages in October to promote registration. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Google have also encouraged users to vote with in-app features — but it’s unclear how those compare to Snap’s efforts.

Engadget’s Jon Fingas explains: “If strategies like this do prove effective, they could overcome chronically low voter turnout among young Americans, at least in high-stakes elections where there’s a clear reason to vote.”