Sunday, October 13, 2019

PodBang removed from Play Store for advertising violation

Pod Bbang (팟빵), one of Korea's top podcast apps, was unexpectedly pulled from the Google Play Store a few days ago, apparently for engaging in some sort of unauthorized advertising method.

PodBbang promo image. Image: Platum

This led to users receiving a message from Google that the app may be malicious and should be deleted. 

Warning alert from Google Play Store recommending deletion of PodBang. Image: Global Economic

So what's going on? Well, if you visit the PodBang website, you're greeted by a pop-up messaging trying to explain the situation. 


Pop-up from PodBang explaining the issue is with advertising inside apps in Google Play Store. Image: PodBang

The site also includes a banner assuring users that it is completely safe to use PodBang:

PodBang is safe to use. Image: PodBang

It looks like it's just some error or policy violation relating to a bad implementation of their advertising service of Google's recent SDK. Somehow, Google flagged PodBang's in-app advertising, which is provided by a Korean company called TNK Factory. I'll assume it's just some kind of coding error and not a blatantly malicious intent, since TNK Factory is a major player in the Korean ad market (and now in Vietnam too). In fact it was acquired by Daum-Kakao several years ago. 

Over on the TNK Factory website, they too have a pop-up alerting customers of the issue:

Pop-up notice of the SDK violation and assurance that it will be addressed shortly. Image: TNK Factory

So it looks like there was just some kind of bad implementation here, and they too are trying to work with Google to get to the bottom of this and restore advertising for customers ASAP. 

The interesting thing here is that it indicates other apps that use TNK Factory as an advertising partner may be affected too. App Brain has a list of other apps that include TNK content:

Play Store apps that implement the TNK advertising feature. Image: App Brain

The list contains some big name developers and services, including:
  • ESTsoft
  • We Make Price
  • AhnLab
  • Nexon
These apps (as of this post) are still up on Google Play, so either they haven't been flagged to come down yet, or their implementation of the TNK code doesn't violate Google standards. If you use any of those, don't be surprised if a similar alert may appear. 

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UPDATE: Another app, a travel search and booking app called Waug, which can be used multilingual but is based on Korea, faced the same problem for the same reason. Though it looks to me like it's back on the Play store now.
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In the meantime, PodBang is suggesting on their support page that people download the app via an .apk file hosted on their servers at this link:

I'm not sure I'd want to sideload an app like this until I was sure everything was above board but go for it if you want. Anyway it seems likely the app will be back in the Google Play Store once the issue is resolved, so just continue using it for now and presumably an update will be coming when it's allowed back into the store. 

So it's probably just a lot of nothing. You can still download it at the iOS App Store (when it's #3 in news category!) while the Play Store lists it still (as of this writing) as "not found" but maybe it'll be back up soon.

2 comments :

  1. Well, you seem to be playing it down. But why does podbbang need all those permissions - access to my lists of contacts, and so on?

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    1. You could say pretty much the same for most apps out there. If it seems like I'm not overly concerned it's because we haven't actually seen any evidence of malicious behavior from the app. This isn't some rogue developer. It's a legitimate firm owned by Kakao and servicing several major apps. Any news coming out about this in Korean is just confirming a coding error that got it automatically booted. Until we see evidence of there being malicious code included, it doesn't seem like something to get too worried about. But let's see.

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