Beyond Google Play: A Large-Scale Comparative Study of Chinese Android App Markets
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China is one of the largest Android markets in the world. As Chinese users cannot access Google Play to buy and install Android apps, a number of independent app stores have emerged and compete in the Chinese app market. Some of the Chinese app stores are pre-installed vendor-specific app markets (e.g., Huawei, Xiaomi and OPPO), whereas others are maintained by large tech companies (e.g., Baidu, Qihoo 360 and Tencent). The nature of these app stores and the content available through them vary greatly, including their trustworthiness and security guarantees. As of today, the research community has not studied the Chinese Android ecosystem in depth. To fill this gap, we present the first large-scale comparative study that covers more than 6 million Android apps downloaded from 16 Chinese app markets and Google Play. We focus our study on catalog similarity across app stores, their features, publishing dynamics, and the prevalence of various forms of misbehavior (including the presence of fake, cloned and malicious apps). Our findings also suggest heterogeneous developer behavior across app stores, in terms of code maintenance, use of third-party services, and so forth. Overall, Chinese app markets perform substantially worse when taking active measures to protect mobile users and legit developers from deceptive and abusive actors, showing a significantly higher prevalence of malware, fake, and cloned apps than Google Play.