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It’s pretty safe to as­sume that al­most every­one has used a Cheetah Mobile app be­fore, prime ex­am­ples in­clude Clean Master or CM Launcher 3D. Even if you have never heard of them, dozens of other apps and games like TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) are at least in­di­rectly con­nected to, funded or owned by Cheetah Mobile. After all, they’re the 4th largest pub­lisher on Google Play Store and the Apple App Store af­ter Google, Facebook and Apple. We’ll get to that later. If you are still us­ing any of their apps, it’s time to stop do­ing so right now. Let me tell you why.

A huge web of trash

First of all, let’s clear some­thing up. Cheetah Mobile is­n’t an Android app com­pany, they are an AI/big data com­pany and on their LinkedIn com­pany page they even dream about ro­bots and chang­ing the fu­ture.

So why do they make util­ity apps in the first place?”, you might ask. The an­swer to that is quite sim­ple. They want your data and they hap­pen to have found a weak spot. For some rea­son a lot of Android users down­load boost­ers, launch­ers, and bat­tery savers with­out think­ing twice, as­sum­ing that it is nor­mal for these kinds of apps to re­quest every per­mis­sion Android of­fers. Speed booster apps re­ally weren’t even a thing be­fore Clean Master came around, and nowa­days the Play Store is lit­er­ally plagued by them. If you take a closer look at them and the names be­hind them you will soon find your­self en­tan­gled in a web of tiny com­pa­nies which all re­ceived mys­te­ri­ous fund­ing from Cheetah Mobile (or other shady com­pa­nies like DU Apps). If you go a step fur­ther and ac­tu­ally take the apps apart you’ll find li­braries pro­vided by Cheetah Mobile pretty much every time.

Let’s take a look at Boost Master for an example, at the right you can see the privacy policy linked in the listing and inside the app
Let’s take a look at Boost Master for an ex­am­ple, at the right you can see the pri­vacy pol­icy linked in the list­ing and in­side the app
A quick look on whois.com and crunchbase reveals that the domain is owned by Kika Tech, an “AI” company funded directly by Cheetah Mobile
A quick look on whois.com and crunch­base re­veals that the do­main is owned by Kika Tech, an AI com­pany funded di­rectly by Cheetah Mobile

I could now spend hours ex­plain­ing why cleaner/​booster apps are bad and you should­n’t use them, but that’s a topic for an­other post and has also been cov­ered be­fore.

Cheetah Mobile sells your data and it’s not even a se­cret

But guys, you still haven’t shown any proof that they are sell­ing our data!” Cheetah Mobile’s of­fi­cial web­site should be good enough proof, right? Well, that’s ex­actly what I can pro­vide.’

This official Cheetah Mobile website (https://data.cmcm.com) should probably be proof enough, right?
This of­fi­cial Cheetah Mobile web­site (https://data.cmcm.com) should prob­a­bly be proof enough, right?

I first dis­cov­ered Cheetah Data a few months ago, and while I was­n’t re­ally sur­prised by it’s ex­is­tence, it still was amaz­ing to see how big of a deal this re­ally is. I ob­vi­ously had to go ahead and reg­is­ter for a lim­ited, free ac­count to check out what kind of data they ac­tu­ally col­lect. And boy, do they col­lect a lot! If you are a de­vel­oper your­self you prob­a­bly know Google Analytics and the kind of sta­tis­tics it pro­vides you with. Imagine this, but for all ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing your com­pe­ti­tion. Updated every two days.

Cheetah Data essentially allows paying users to get full analytics and profiles of the users of any app
Cheetah Data es­sen­tially al­lows pay­ing users to get full an­a­lyt­ics and pro­files of the users of any app

Yes. Cheetah Mobile apps not only col­lect sta­tis­tics while you’re us­ing them, they also analyse which apps you use, at what time, and for how long. The fact that all of this data is be­ing sold openly makes me sus­pect that this is just the tip of the ice­berg.

They aren’t even ashamed to tell us how they get their data
They aren’t even ashamed to tell us how they get their data

When I say Samsung and Microsoft are sell­outs, I mean it

You might be won­der­ing what this has to do with this post right here and you are right to ask so. Samsung’s Android soft­ware hap­pens to have a stor­age clean­ing tool, which you might con­sider a nice to have fea­ture at first… un­til you look at it a lit­tle closer.

That’s interesting, to say the least
That’s in­ter­est­ing, to say the least (source: Reddit)

Clean Master, just like many apps, hap­pens to be de­vel­oped by Cheetah Mobile. The app on the Google Play Store has over 1,000,000,000 down­loads and this num­ber keeps ris­ing. For every per­son that down­loads them, Cheetah Mobile gets more and more data from users. It may be a risky bet, but I’m pretty con­vinced that al­most every­one who uses an Android phone has at some point used an app that is at least in­di­rectly con­nected to them.

Why would more than a billion people downloads this…
Why would more than a bil­lion peo­ple down­loads this…

Oh, and if you ever hap­pen to be want­ing to in­stall Clean Master on your Samsung Galaxy but don’t know how to do so, there is no need for you to worry. Samsung has you cov­ered with an of­fi­cial guide on how to in­stall said app.

I am not really sure if this guide is really helping anyone at all
I am not re­ally sure if this guide is re­ally help­ing any­one at all

Now, what does Microsoft have to do with all this? To show you this we’ll need to take a closer look at the Play Store de­scrip­tion of CM Launcher 3D to un­cover this:

Wait… They actually did that?
Wait… They ac­tu­ally did that?

Oh, by the way

Even if you have never used any shady util­ity apps be­fore you’ve most prob­a­bly down­loaded at least one of the vi­ral games of the past years like Piano Tiles, chances are that game has been cre­ated by Cheetah Games or an­other com­pany mag­i­cally funded by CM. Other apps and com­pa­nies Cheetah Mobile owns you might not have re­al­ized in­clude TikTok (formerly Musically) and Live.me, a live-stream­ing ser­vice.

Musical.ly and Cheetah Mobile merged last year. Social net­works are known for pulling every lit­tle piece of data from their users. After this merger, Cheetah Mobile de­vel­oped their own app, TikTok. Musical.ly hap­pened to be shut down and switched over to TikTok. Musical.ly even shut down their live stream­ing ser­vice live.ly and en­cour­aged users to switch over to Cheetah Mobile’s LiveMe.

At this point it should be clear that they do every­thing in their power to col­lect data in every field out there, so it would only make sense to also have a browser on the app palette, would­n’t it? Presenting you CM Browser”, made to send your juicy browser his­tory and us­age data over to your new fa­vorite mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar com­pany, ready to be shared with God and the world.

And of course they label it as a secure browser, with your privacy in mind (duh)
And of course they la­bel it as a se­cure browser, with your pri­vacy in mind (duh)

TL;DR:

CM solely makes apps to mine data. They sell that data. There is ba­si­cally noth­ing they are not col­lect­ing. If you have one of their apps in­stalled, any­one can go ahead and an­a­lyze how you are us­ing your de­vice and what you’re do­ing with it. You be­come part of a big data pool.

If any of your friends are us­ing Cheetah Mobile soft­ware make sure to tell them about this and link them here. You’re also free to quote this post if you are re­port­ing about this is­sue as well. If you have found other scummy apps/​de­vel­op­ers or just want to know if an app you are us­ing is track­ing you, con­tact me on Twitter.

I’d also like to thank Christopher Kardas, co-founder of Melon Pancakes (the pub­li­ca­tion this ar­ti­cle got pub­lished in) who wrote this story to­gether with me as well as and Max Weinbach for their feed­back and in­put dur­ing the writ­ing of this post. They were a big help when it came to pub­lish­ing, un­veil­ing and spread­ing this story!

This post was originally published here.