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Facebook sues two app developers for ad fraud

The developers released Android apps to infect people's phones with malware, Facebook alleges.

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Facebook is cracking down on advertising fraud. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook said Tuesday it's suing two app developers in Asia for making money from advertising fraud, highlighting how the social network is cracking down on abuse on the platform.

The app developers LionMobi in Hong Kong and JediMobi in Singapore released apps on the Google Play Store that infected a user's phone with malware to make it appear as if they clicked on Facebook ads when they didn't, Facebook alleges. That generated fake user clicks on Facebook ads in what the social network calls "click injection fraud."

LionMobi denied the allegations. The company said it removed third-party software development kits that were integrated in its products and that may have violated Facebook's rules.

"LionMobi has long adhered to the Facebook advertising policy and has never obtained any illegal income by so-called click injection fraud on the Facebook platform," the company said in a statement.

LionMobi released the app "Power Clean - Antivirus and Phone Cleaner App" and JediMobi created a calculator app called "Calculator Plus" for Android devices. Both developers used their apps to install malware on people's phones last year that generated fake clicks on ads, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. 

The Power Clean app has more than 100 million downloads and the Calculator Plus app has been downloaded more than 5 million times, according to the Google Play Store. 

Facebook offers a product known as the Audience Network that lets advertisers show their ads to people on apps and websites that aren't developed by Facebook. App developers get a slice of the money generated from these Facebook ads and that amount depends on how many people clicked on the ads. The lawsuit doesn't say how much money these developers made from their alleged scheme. The companies also targeted Google for ad dollars, according to the lawsuit. 

Facebook alleges that the developers breached a contract with the company and harmed Facebook's image, which has already been tarnished by a series of privacy and security scandals. The companies also violated a federal and state law against fraud, according to the lawsuit. 

"Facebook detected this fraud as part of our continuous efforts to investigate and stop abuse by app developers and any abuse of our advertising products," Jessica Romero, Facebook's director of platform enforcement and litigation, said in a blog post

CNET reached out to Facebook about how many people and advertisers were affected. Facebook said it didn't have anything else to add beyond what's in the lawsuit and its blog post. The social network refunded advertisers in March and disabled the developers' Facebook accounts. 

JediMobi didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Originally published Aug. 6, 2:59 p.m. PT.
Updates, 3:48 p.m.: Includes more information from lawsuit; Aug. 7: Adds statement from LionMobi.