Accion Venture Lab launches $23M inclusive fintech startup fund – gpgmail


Accion Venture Lab—the seed-stage investment arm of non-profit Accion—has raised $23 million for a new inclusive fintech startup fund.

The Accion Venture Lab Limited Partnership, as its called, will make seed-stage investments in inclusive fintech startups, defined as ventures that “that leverage technology to increase the reach, quality, and affordability of financial services for the under-served at scale,” per a company release.

The new fund was raised with capital contributions from a number of participants, including the Ford Foundation, Visa Inc. and Proparco—the development finance institution of the French government.

The additional $23 million brings Accion Venture Lab‘s total capital under management to $42 million.

The new LP fund will consider startups from any geography, as along as they meet specific criteria. Overall, Accion Venture Lab doesn’t have regional investment quotas, but does look to allocate roughly 25 to 30 percent of its funds to Africa, Accion Venture Lab Managing Director Tahira Dosani told gpgmail on a call.

“We want to continue to focus on Latin-America, on Sub-Saharan Africa, on Southeast Asia as well as in the U.S. It really is about…where we see the need and the opportunity across the markets that we’re in,” she said.

In line with Accion’s mandate to boost financial inclusion globally, Accion Venture Lab already has a portfolio of 36 fintech startup investments across 5 continents—including 9 in the U.S., 8 in Latin America, and 8 in India.

“Our goal is to really be the that first institutional investor in the companies we invest in. That’s were we see the biggest capital gap. And it’s where we build capability and expertise,” Dosani said. In 2018, Accion Venture Lab successfully exited Indian fintech company Aye Finance, following exits in 2017 and 2016.

This year Accion Venture Lab supported a $6.5 million Series A investment in Lulalend, a South African startup that uses internal credit metrics to provide short-term loans to SMEs that are often unable to obtain working capital.

Accion’s new LP fund will follow past practice and make investments typically in the $500,000 range. It will start sourcing startups immediately through its investment leads around the world and already made its first seed financing to U.S. venture Joust—a fintech platform for gig economy workers.

Accion Venture Lab’s LP fund is the first time the organization has pooled third-party investment capital, according to a spokesperson.

On the appeal for those contributing, Dosani named Accion’s geographic reach and experience. “We think that’s our strength, because we’re able to invest in similar business models across different markets. And we’re able to bring that knowledge from one market to another,” she said.

The Ford Foundation contributed $2 million, according to an email from Christine Looney, Deputy Director, Mission Investments. Visa didn’t disclose its capital contribution, but told gpgmail it will play a role in governance through its participation in a Limited Partners Advisory Committee for the new fund.

As a point of observation, Accion Venture Lab stands out as a fund for giving an equal pitch footing to fintech ventures across frontier, emerging, and developed markets from Lagos to London.

Accion’s new LP fund—along with the organization’s commitment to make nearly a third of its investments in Africa—means more capital to digital finance startups on the continent. By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people still represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

 

 

 


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Goldman backs Kobo360, Rwanda commits to EVs, Interswitch IPO update – gpgmail


Nigerian freight logistics startup Kobo360 raised a $20 million Series A round led by Goldman Sachs and $10 million in working capital financing from Nigerian commercial banks.

The company — with an Uber-like app that connects truckers and companies to delivery services — will use the funds to upgrade its platform and expand to 10 new countries beyond current operating markets of Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Kenya.

Kobo360 looks to grow beyond its Nigeria roots to become a truly Pan-African company, co-founder Obi Ozor told gpgmail .  He co-founded the venture in 2017 with fellow Nigerian Ife Oyedele II.

Since its launch in Lagos, the startup has continued to grow its product offerings, VC backing and customer base. Kobo360 claims a fleet of more than 10,000 drivers and trucks operating on its app. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, Dangote and DHL.

Kobo360’s latest round is also notable for Goldman Sachs’ involvement. Goldman’s participation tracks a growing list of African venture investments made by the U.S. based finance firm.

Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market, Transsion confirmed to gpgmail.

The company — which has a robust Africa sales network — could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

Transsion’s IPO prospectus is downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public.

Headquartered in Shenzhen — where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility — Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai, a company spokesperson said.

The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos, according to a preview of the plan by President Paul Kagame at a public-rally

The director general for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, Patrick Nyirishema, confirmed Kagame’s comments were ahead of a national e-mobility plan in the works for the East African nation.

“The president’s announcement is exactly the policy direction we’re in…it’s about converting to electric motos…The policy is prepared, it’s yet to be passed…and is going through the approval process,” Nyirishema told gpgmail on a call from Kigali.

Motorcycle taxis in Rwanda are a common mode of transit, with estimates of 20 to 30 thousand operating in the capital of Kigali.

Nyirishema explained that converting to e-motorcycles is part of a national strategy to move Rwanda’s entire mobility space to electric. The country will start with public transit operators, such as moto-taxis, and move to buses and automobiles.

Ampersand, a Kigali-based e-moto startup, has already begun to pilot EVs and charging systems in Rwanda and will work with the country’s government on the moto-taxi conversion.

In an ExtraCrunch feature, gpgmail delved into tech talent accelerator Andela — one of the most recognized and well funded startups operating in Africa.

In a byte, Andela is Series D stage startup ― backed by $180 million in VC ― that trains and connects African software developers to global companies for a fee.

CEO Jeremy Johnson dished on the company’s strategy toward profitability and responded to some of the criticism it receives ― namely a claim the startup is creating a second brain-drain when software developers leave Andela and Africa, to take positions with global companies.

Today Andela has offices in New York and five African countries: Nigeria, Kenya,  Rwanda, Uganda, and Egypt ― which largely align with the continent’s top tech VC markets.

Across this network the company recruits software developers, builds software engineers, and deploys teams of software engineers.

Johnson disclosed numbers on Andela’s expected new hires for the year, current developer staff, how many departures the company expects, and how many of those will likely leave their home countries―which actually amounts to a fairly small percentage.

gpgmail checked in with Nigerian fintech company Interswitch for the latest on its anticipated dual-listing London and Lagos stock exchanges.

A Bloomberg News story (based on background sourcing) revived speculation the IPO could happen this year for the company — which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure and has expanded its operations presence and payments products across Africa and globally.

Reports that Interswitch could be one of the earliest big tech companies out of Africa to go public trace back to 2016, when CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe told gpgmail the company was considering a listing before the end of that year.

Last month, an Interswitch spokesperson would neither confirm or deny a pending IPO, per a gpgmail inquiry. So, it’s still tough to say if or when the company could list. But there are still several reasons why the business (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on, which we detailed in the update story.

 

One could be an eventual increase in venture funding to African startups, that could come from Interswitch. Another could be an Interswitch IPO adding another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia — the e-commerce company that became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE in April.

More Africa-related stories @gpgmail

African tech around the ‘net

 


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Malicious websites were used to secretly hack into iPhones for years, says Google – gpgmail


Security researchers at Google say they’ve found a number of malicious websites which, when visited, could quietly hack into a victim’s iPhone by exploiting a set of previously undisclosed software flaws.

Google’s Project Zero said in a deep-dive blog post published late on Thursday that the websites were visited thousands of times per week by unsuspecting victims, in what was described as a “indiscriminate” attack.

“Simply visiting the hacked site was enough for the exploit server to attack your device, and if it was successful, install a monitoring implant,” said Ian Beer, a security researcher at Project Zero.

He said the websites had been hacking iPhones over a “period of at least two years.”

The researchers found five distinct exploit chains involving 12 separate security flaws, including seven involving Safari, the in-built web browser on iPhones. The five separate attack chains allowed an attacker to gain “root” access to the device — the highest level of access and privilege on an iPhone. In doing so, an attacker can gain access to the device’s full range of features normally off-limits to the user. That means an attacker can quietly install malicious apps can be installed to spy on an iPhone owner without their knowledge or consent.

Google said based off their analysis, the vulnerabilities were used to steal a user’s photos and messages, and track their location in near-realtime. The “implant” could also access the user’s on-device bank of saved passwords.

The vulnerabilities affect iOS 10 through to the current iOS 12 software version.

Google privately disclosed the vulnerabilities in February, giving Apple only a week to fix the flaws and roll out updates to its users. That’s a fraction of the 90 days typically given to software developers, giving an indication of the severity of the vulnerabilities.

Apple issued a fix six days later with iOS 12.1.4 for iPhone 5s and iPad Air and later.

Beer said it’s possible other hacking campaigns currently in action.

The iPhone and iPad maker has a good rap on security and privacy matters. Recently the company increased its maximum bug bounty payout to $1 million for security researchers who find flaws that can silently target an iPhone and gain root-level privileges without any user interaction. Under Apple’s new bounty rules — set to go into effect later this year — Google would’ve been eligible for several million dollars in bounties.

A spokesperson for Apple did not immediately comment.


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Parallels’ KeyGenie lets you play for a free product key — but you can’t ever win – gpgmail


When is a game not a game? When you never win.

For years, virtualization software maker Parallels offered the chance to win a free product keys if you “stump the KeyGenie,” a virtual robot which users can play against. Normally, users must buy a product key to run the software beyond its two-week free trial. But if you can make it through five questions without the robot guessing what you’re thinking, the robot says a key “may be yours.”

But it turns out it’s an impossibility.

Security researcher John Wethington alerted gpgmail to the KeyGenie game, more than a year after he told Parallels that the game was impossible to win. He examined at the source code of the webpage to see how it worked. He quickly found that no matter what a user does, the code never allows a user to win a free product key.

“It’s to get people to sign up for a trial by pretending to give them a chance at a free license,” he said. “But the source code proves it never will.”

We asked three security researchers to independently verify our findings. Spoiler alert: they did.

Yonathan Klijnsma, a threat researcher at cyberthreat intelligence firm RiskIQ, looked at the code and found that the robot’s responses were hardcoded.

“There’s never any product key,” he told gpgmail. “You have that winning screen but there’s never a product key on the page,” he said. “You can trigger the case for getting a key but there is no way to get to it.”

Though it’s possible to trick the game into thinking you’ve won, nothing happens — and no key is ever awarded.

A screencap of the KeyGenie game. No product key is ever produced. (Image: gpgmail)

“It’s a bunch of hardcoded if-else statements that just take you to the same widget in the end,” said Edwin Foudil, a security researcher who also performed a cursory review of the site. And Baptiste Robert, who’s known for finding security vulnerabilities in apps and websites, said his own checks show nothing is ever pulled from the server after the user wins, suggesting the winner is never served a product key.

“It seems to be a fake game,” said Robert.

We contacted Parallels prior to publication but spokesperson John Uppendahl did not comment. If that changes, we’ll update.

The KeyGenie site was born more than five years ago after Parallels found its popular desktop emulation software was regularly falling victim to software piracy. Hackers would crack the software’s product key algorithm, then build and share their product key generators — known as keygens — on file-sharing sites. Quickly, these keygens floated to the top of search engines, making user piracy even easier.

Parallels built the aptly named “KeyGenie” game so it would rise to the top of search results and replace the illegal keygen search results.

One of Parallels’ marketing agencies at the time published a blog post claims that KeyGenie “will actually hand out keys,” and that the game was “programmed randomly.” The post, published seven months later, “generated dozens of trials” and “four-figures in revenue.”

The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates potentially deceptive advertising and marketing, did not comment outside business hours.




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Walmart and Tesla are going to try and work things out – gpgmail


Walmart came out swinging earlier this week in a lawsuit that accused Tesla of breach of contract and gross negligence over problems with rooftop solar panel systems installed at the retail giant’s stores.

Now, just days later, the lawsuit has been placed on hold while the two companies try to reach an agreement that would keep the solar installations in place and put them back in service, according to a joint statement issued late Thursday night.

“Walmart and Tesla look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed,” the statement read. “Together, we look forward to pursuing our mutual goal of a sustainable energy future. Above all else, both companies want each and every system to operate reliably, efficiently, and safely.”

Walmart hasn’t dropped the lawsuit. The complaint is still on file with New York state court. But the two parties are going to try and reach an agreement that would avoid a lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which is aimed at Tesla’s energy unit that was formerly known as SolarCity, alleges that seven fires on Walmart rooftops were caused by the solar panel systems. Walmart asked Tesla to remove the solar panel systems on all 244 stores where they are currently installed and to pay for damages related to fires that the retailer alleges stem from the panels.

Now, a Walmart spokesperson said it is “actively working towards a resolution” with Tesla.

Neither Tesla or Walmart would explain the details of the negotiations.

The stakes are high for Tesla. Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk  announced a new rental offering for solar power in a bid to reboot the flagging renewable energy business.

Tesla’s share of the solar market has declined since its merger with SolarCity in 2016. In the second quarter Tesla deployed only 29 megawatts of new solar installations, while the number one and two providers of consumer solar, SunRun and Vivint Solar, installed 103 megawatts and 56 megawatts, respectively.

Tesla’s renewable energy business includes residential and commercial solar and energy storage products. The company also has a utility-scale energy product called Megapack. While Tesla still produces solar panels for residential use, much of its focus has been on developing its solar roof, which is comprised of tiles. It still operates a commercial business, which targets municipalities, schools, affordable housing, enterprise and agriculture and water districts as customers.

The company doesn’t provide a breakdown of its solar installations, making it difficult to determine if the commercial business is flat, falling or on the rise. Language in its latest 10-Q suggests Tesla is putting a renewed effort into its solar business.

Tesla said it’s working on revamping the customer service experience for solar products, according to the 10-Q. The company said while its retrofit solar system deployments have it expects they “will stabilize and grow in the second half of the year.”


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Classic Hangouts for G Suite will hang in there a bit longer – gpgmail


Earlier this year, Google said it would transition all Hangouts users on G Suite to Hangouts Chat and Meet by October 2019 and then retire the classic version of Hangouts. But a lot of G Suite users love their classic Hangouts, so Google has now revised Hangouts’ retirement date to “no sooner than June 2020.” That leaves the door open for a later date, too, and the company says it will provide a “more definitive date” at some point in the future.

It’s worth stressing that this is about Hangouts for paying G Suite users. What’s happening to Hangouts for consumers remains unclear, given that Google’s original consumer messaging strategy failed after the disappointment that was Allo.

Earlier this year, Google said that it wanted to transition consumers over to a free version of Hangouts Chat and Meet after the G Suite transition. A Google spokesperson told me that this plan remains in place and that it will start after the G Suite transition.

As for G Suite users, Google plans to make the transition for G Suite users easier as it looks to move them over to the new platform. Admins can already jump on an accelerated timeline and disable classic Hangouts right now (but they still need an invitation from Google to do so).

 


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Amazon customers say they received emails for other people’s orders – gpgmail


Users have said they are receiving emails from Amazon containing invoices and order updates on other customers, gpgmail has learned.

Jake Williams, founder of cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec, raised the alarm after he received an email from Amazon addressed to another customer with their name, postal address, and their order details.

Williams said he ordered something months ago which recently became available for shipping. He checked the email headers to make sure it was a genuine message.

“I think they legitimately intended to email me a notification that my item was shipping early,” he said. “I just think they screwed something up in the system and sent the updates to the wrong people.”

He said the apparent security lapse was worrying because emails about orders sent to the wrong place is a “serious breach of trust” that can reveal private information about a customer’s life, such as sexual orientation, proclivities, or other personal information

Several other Amazon customers also said they received emails seemingly meant for other people.

“I made an order yesterday afternoon and received her email last night,” another customer who tweeted about the mishap told gpgmail. “Luckily I’m not a malicious person but that’s a huge security issue,” she said.

Another customer tweeted out about receiving an email meant for someone else. He said he spoke to Amazon customer service who said they will investigate additional security issues.

“Hope you didn’t send my sensitive account info to someone else,” he added.

And, one other customer posted a tweet thread about the issue, saying they spoke to a supervisor about the issue who gave a “nonchalant” response, she wrote. She said the supervisor said the issue happens frequently.

A spokesperson for Amazon did not return a request for comment when we asked how many customers were affected and if the company plans on informing customers of the breach. If we hear back, we’ll update.

It’s the second security lapse in a year. In November the company emailed customers saying a “technical error” had exposed an unknown number of their email addresses. When asked about specifics, the notoriously secretive company declined to comment further.




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Credit Karma glitch exposed users to other people’s accounts – gpgmail


Users of credit monitoring site Credit Karma have complained that they were served other people’s account information when they logged in.

Many took to a Reddit thread and complained on Twitter about the apparent security lapse.

“First time logging in it gave me my information, but as soon as I refreshed the screen, it gave me someone else’s info,” said one Reddit user. “Refreshed again and bam! someone else’s info — it’s like roulette.” Another user said they logged in and out several times and each time they had “full access to a different random person’s credit file,” they said.

One user told gpgmail that after they were served another person’s full credit report, they messaged the user on LinkedIn “to let him know his data was compromised.”

Another user told us this:

The reports are split into two sections: Credit Factors — things like number of accounts, inquiries, utilization; and Credit Reports — personal information like name, address, etc.. The Credit Reports section was my own information, but the Credit Factors section definitely wasn’t. It listed four credit card accounts (I have more like 20 on my report), a missed payment (I’m 100% on time with payments), a Honda auto loan (never had one with Honda), student loan financing (mine are paid off and too old to appear on my report), and cards with an issuer that I have no relationship with (Discover).

Several screenshots seen by gpgmail show other people’s accounts, including details about their credit card accounts and their current balance.

Another user who was affected said they could read another person’s Credit Factors — including derogatory credit marks — but that the Credit Report tab with that user’s personal information, like names and addresses, was blank.

One user said that the login page was pulled offline for a brief period. “We’ll be right back,” the login page read instead.

Credit Karma spokesperson Emily Donohue denied there was a data breach, but when asked would not say how many customers were affected.

“What our members experienced this morning was a technical malfunction that has now been fixed. There is no evidence of a data breach,” the statement said.

The company didn’t say for how long customers were experiencing issues.

Credit Karma offers customers free credit score monitoring and reports. The company allows users to check their scores against several major credit agencies, including Equifax, which last month was fined at least $575 million for a 2017 data breach.




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Africa’s top mobile phone seller Transsion to list in Chinese IPO – gpgmail


Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market,  Transsion confirmed to gpgmail. 

The company—which has a robust Africa sales network—could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

“The company’s listing-related work is running smoothly. The registration application and issuance process is still underway, with the specific timetable yet to be confirmed by the CSRC and Shanghai Stock Exchange,” a spokesperson for Transsion’s Office of the Secretary to the Chairman told gpgmail via email.

Transsion’s IPO prospectus was downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public. 

Headquartered in Shenzhen—where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility—Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development,  including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai—a company spokesperson said. 

Transsion recently announced a larger commitment to capturing market share in India, including building an industrial park in the country for manufacture of phones to Africa.

The IPO comes after Transsion announced its intent to go public and filed its first docs with the Shanghai Stock Exchange in April. 

Listing on the STAR Market will put Transsion on the freshly minted exchange seen as an extension of Beijing’s ambition to become a hub for high-potential tech startups to raise public capital. Chinese regulators lowered profitability requirements, for the exchange, which means pre-profit ventures can list.

Transsion’s IPO process comes when the company is actually in the black. The firm generated 22.6 billion yuan ($3.29 billion) in revenue in 2018, up from 20 billion yuan from a year earlier. Net profit for the year slid to 654 million yuan, down from 677 million yuan in 2017, according to the firm’s prospectus.

Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market—through its brands Tecno, Infinix, and Itel—and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and before Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats.

Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also attracted attention for being one of the first known device makers to optimize its camera phones for African complexions.

On a recent research trip to Addis Ababa, gpgmail learned the top entry-level Tecno smartphone was the W3, which lists for 3600 Ethiopian Birr, or roughly $125.

In Africa, Transsion’s ability to build market share and find a sweet spot with consumers on price and features gives it prominence in the continent’s booming tech scene.

Africa already has strong mobile-phone penetration, but continues to undergo a conversion from basic USSD phones, to feature phones, to smartphones.

Smartphone adoption on the continent is low, at 34 percent, but expected to grow to 67 percent by 2025, according to GSMA.

This, added to an improving internet profile, is key to Africa’s tech scene. In top markets for VC and startup origination—such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa—thousands of ventures are building business models around mobile-based products and digital applications.

If Transsion’s IPO enables higher smartphone conversion on the continent that could enable more startups and startup opportunities—from fintech to VOD apps.

Another interesting facet to Transsion’s IPO is its potential to create greater influence from China in African tech, in particular if the Shenzhen company moves strongly toward venture investing.

Comparatively, China’s engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities—further boosted in recent years as Beijing pushes its Belt and Road plan.

Transsion’s IPO move is the second recent event—after Chinese owned Opera’s big venture spending in Nigeria—to reflect greater Chinese influence and investment in the continent’s digital scene.

So in coming years, China could be less known for building roads, bridges, and buildings in Africa and more for selling smartphones and providing VC for African startups.


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Facebook sues two app developers for click injection ad fraud – gpgmail


Facebook has filed lawsuits against two app developers accused of generating fraudulent revenue using the social media giant’s advertising platform.

The company announced the legal action in a blog post Tuesday.

“The developers made apps available on the Google Play store to infect their users’ phones with malware,” said Jessica Romero, director of platform enforcement and litigation. “The malware created fake user clicks on Facebook ads that appeared on the users’ phones, giving the impression that the users had clicked on the ads.”

The scheme uses a technique known as click injection, which relies on apps fraudulently generating ad clicks without the user’s knowledge to artificially inflate the amount of ad revenue. It’s a problem previously noted by security researchers. Often, developers create junk or easy-to-make apps which get downloaded millions of times, while in the background they’re clicking on invisible ads without the user’s knowledge.

Facebook said in this case two developers, LionMobi — based in Hong Kong, and JediMobi — based in Singapore — generated “unearned payouts” from the social media giant’s advertisement system.

By our count, the app developers have seen more than 207 million installs to date. The apps remain on Google’s app store. Google did not immediately comment.

The social media giant said it refunded impacted advertisers.

A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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