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Google suspends top Chinese shopping app Pinduoduo

Alleges it’s infected with malware – but not the version in its own digital tat bazaar

Google has suspended Chinese shopping app Pinduoduo from its Play store because versions of the software found elsewhere have included malware.

Pinduoduo rose to prominence by offering Chinese consumers the chance to buy fresh produce from farmers. Chinese consumers are often very conscious of food quality and the app became a smash hit. Pinduoduo grew from $1.9 billion annual revenue in 2018 to the $18.9 billion it today announced [PDF] for financial year 2022.

That growth was made possible by its creation of a vast logistics operation, diversification beyond agriculture into other forms of e-commerce, international expansion, and the creation of a general online retailer named Temu.

But the company has now struck trouble at Google: Bloomberg on Monday reported that Google has suspended a selection of its apps on grounds that some versions contain malware.

Interestingly, Google told Bloomberg versions of Pinduoduo hosted on outside Play were the source of the infected software, yet it chose to ban the app from the Play store and users of Android devices not to run the apps.

Remember, dear reader, that Google promotes Play as a safe and curated service users can trust because the ads and search giants screens apps for nastyware. For Google to ban an app it’s seen carrying malware elsewhere is therefore an intriguing decision.

Just how Pinduoduo was infected is another matter. The company has made no statement about the matter at the time of writing.

But it’s not hard to guess how it happened. Android can of course run multiple app stores, which matters in China because the Google Play store is inaccessible within the Great Firewall. Local app stores dominate the Chinese market.

It’s entirely possible that someone has poisoned versions of Pinduoduo’s apps found on one or more Chinese app stores, or is circulating .APK files that include nastyware. Whatever the source of the malware, Google banning a Chinese app is bound to go down badly in the Middle Kingdom. The impact of the decision also buttresses arguments made by both Google and Apple that their monopoly positions on app stores and payments protect consumers.

News of its apps being suspended caps a bad day for Pinduoduo, as its quarterly results fell short of expectations. The fact that the Middle Kingdom only recently emerged from strict COVID-19-related movement restrictions was a major reason for that poor result, but execs also pointed to discounting across China’s e-commerce sector as another factor that contributed to tough trading conditions. ®

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