Understanding Incentivized Mobile App Installs on Google Play Store

Shehroze Farooqi, Álvaro Feal, Tobias Lauinger, Damon McCoy, Zubair Shafiq, Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    "Incentivized"advertising platforms allow mobile app developers to acquire new users by directly paying users to install and engage with mobile apps (e.g., create an account, make in-app purchases). Incentivized installs are banned by the Apple App Store and discouraged by the Google Play Store because they can manipulate app store metrics (e.g., install counts, appearance in top charts). Yet, many organizations still offer incentivized install services for Android apps. In this paper, we present the first study to understand the ecosystem of incentivized mobile app install campaigns in Android and its broader ramifications through a series of measurements. We identify incentivized install campaigns that require users to install an app and perform in-app tasks targeting manipulation of a wide variety of user engagement metrics (e.g., daily active users, user session lengths) and revenue. Our results suggest that these artificially inflated metrics can be effective in improving app store metrics as well as helping mobile app developers to attract funding from venture capitalists. Our study also indicates lax enforcement of the Google Play Store's existing policies to prevent these behaviors. It further motivates the need for stricter policing of incentivized install campaigns. Our proposed measurements can also be leveraged by the Google Play Store to identify potential policy violations.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationIMC 2020 - Proceedings of the 2020 ACM Internet Measurement Conference
    PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Electronic)9781450381383
    StatePublished - Oct 27 2020
    Event20th ACM Internet Measurement Conference, IMC 2020 - Virtual, Online, United States
    Duration: Oct 27 2020Oct 29 2020

    Publication series

    NameProceedings of the ACM SIGCOMM Internet Measurement Conference, IMC


    Conference20th ACM Internet Measurement Conference, IMC 2020
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CityVirtual, Online


    • Incentivized Installs
    • Mobile apps
    • Reputation Manipulation
    • Spam Installs

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Software
    • Computer Networks and Communications


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