How a little girl helped Google remove scam apps making around Rs 4 crore by targeting kids

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A little girl in Prague, Czech Republic helped security researchers discover 7 scam apps on Google Play and Apple App stores with a total download of over 2.4 million. The creators of these apps earned more than $500,000 or over Rs 3.7 crore, as per SensorTower. These apps were typical adware scams which appeared as entertainment, wallpaper or music apps.
Interestingly, these were promoted on TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms and mostly targeted kids. These apps mostly managed to stay hidden and it was only after a little girl reported a TikTok profile promoting one of these apps to Avast’s Be Safe Online project in the Czech Republic. This initiative educates children on how to stay safe online.
“The apps aggressively display ads, or charge users between $2-10 USD. The apps either provide a simple game that just causes the device to vibrate, wallpapers, or music. Some of the apps are HiddenAds trojans, a type of trojan Avast reported on this summer that disguises itself as a safe and useful application but instead serves intrusive ads outside of the app, and hides the original app icon making it difficult for users to identify where the ads are being served from,” explained Avast.
Soon after the researchers were alerted, they notified Google and Apple privately. While Google has confirmed that these apps were removed, Apple hasn’t responded yet.
The moment these apps were installed on a device, these used to hide their icons making it difficult for users to spot and uninstall them. Also, these apps forcefully showed ads when they were not used.
People with millions of followers on TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms promote these adware luring people to install them. The researchers also found out several profiles with followers of anywhere between 5000 and 3.3 million promoting these apps.
“We thank the young girl who reported the TikTok profile to us…It is particularly concerning that the apps are being promoted on social media platforms popular among younger kids, who may not recognize some of the red flags surrounding the apps and therefore may fall for them,” said Jakub Vávra, threat analyst at Avast.

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