Google has suspended the official Play store app of Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo due to the presence of malware. The tech giant also warned users that several of Pinduoduo’s other apps contain the same malware, which can install widgets on affected devices, prevent users from uninstalling apps, track app usage stats, access WiFi information, and pull location data. The malware was detected by Google’s anti-malware suite, Google Play Protect, and security researchers say Pinduoduo exploited an Android vulnerability that Google patched earlier this month.
Pinduoduo, which boasts around 800 million users, is a Chinese company, and the Play store is not available in China. However, Google detected the malware on several other app stores, including Samsung, Huawei, Oppo, and Xiaomi. Users in western countries can rely on protection from Google’s review process, but this is not the case for those in China.
Pinduoduo has denied the accusations from Google and security researchers, suggesting that other apps were suspended from Google Play around the same time. However, the earliest reports accusing Pinduoduo of spreading malware came from Chinese security researchers, and later analysis from cybersecurity company Lookout appears to validate these findings.
This security situation highlights one of the issues caused by Android’s severe level of fragmentation. While fragmentation has benefits, such as allowing for more customization and diversity in the Android ecosystem, it also presents challenges for software developers and hardware manufacturers who must support a range of devices with different configurations and capabilities.
Google is working to harden its platform by baking security into the Android firmware. Earlier this month, the company’s security team warned users about 18 zero-day exploits in popular Android devices, including the Pixel 6 and 7 phones. By integrating security into the firmware, Google hopes to make Android more secure for all users, regardless of device or app store.
Given the ongoing tensions between China and the US, it is easy to see Pinduoduo’s suspension by Google as anti-China fearmongering, particularly in light of Congress’ threat to ban TikTok. However, it is important to note that the initial reports of Pinduoduo’s malware came from Chinese security researchers. The situation also underscores the importance of app store security and the need for developers to be vigilant in their efforts to prevent malware from being distributed through their apps.