Mobile App Install Fraud - A Multi-Billion Dollar Headache

Wherever there’s demand business follows - a closed case for the world economy. And for any good business, advertising and marketing is always a prime factor. Marketing and Advertising are pioneers of user attention, making it a billion dollar industry. Whichever product, persona, platform or service has advocacy of the user, marketers find a way to pin their Ad on it - thanks to modern advertising technology.

In the past decade, the user attention has been slowly swayed  by smartphones, giving rise to a lot of Apps and attracting the billion dollar Ad Industry. Unfortunately it didn’t take time for the Fraudsters to catch the scent and till date these Fraudsters have drained $14 Billion USD committing mobile app installation fraud.

What is App Install Fraud?

There are two case of fraud around app installation -

Fake App Installs: Here a fake installation is created by a malicious bot or any other malware usually attached to an already installed app in your phone. Marketers pay high commission around app installs as they understand the value of having their app installed in a user’s mobile. It helps them to boost brand awareness and drive conversions. 

The source of this installation fraud  is usually a fraudulent affiliate partner who steals credit (the commission) for each app install irrespective of the wicked ways involved in generating those fake app installations.

Organic Install Attribution Fraud: To be honest I find this more nefarious than Fake App Installs. Here the Fraudsters are stealing credit for all organic app installs on a user's phone which results in the advertiser being charged without the involvement of any digital advertisements.


How Fraudsters commit App Install Fraud?

Among the several possible ways for a fraudulent app install, the most common cases include the use of bots - scripts that automatically run in your phone’s background. Bots or these automated scripts are spread through malware, infecting your device. Next, these malicious Bots start traversing through various websites, click on ads, install apps e.t.c

Another instance is SDK spoofing (a.k.a mimicking), where the malware effected app is able to simulate ad clicks, installs and engagements to claim attributions for other apps on your mobile. At the end the fraudsters get the commission tricking advertisers for thousands of app installs that didn’t happen.

Lastly these schemes also involve installs generated from farms where a lot of people are paid to install and engage with apps on multiple devices.


You can read more on types of Fraud around Mobile Advertising in the following articles:

️CAUTION : The Mobile Advertising system needs saving!

Mobile Ad Fraud - More Sophisticated Ways

The Most Important Question: Who is responsible for App Install Fraud?

  • In certain cases it’s the app publisher himself. The malware and adware are cooked along with the app, enabling it to carry on with the fraudulent activities.
  • Next in line are the fraudulent ad networks. These Networks create malware baked SDKs  to boost ad revenue and install credits, by spoofing app installs. 
  • At times App Install Fraud is done by fraudulent affiliate partners using various schemes and stealing commission from affiliate networks and advertisers.

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