To improve app quality and nip the potential threats in the bud, modern app markets have released strict guidelines along with app vetting process before app publishing. However, there has been growing evidence showing the ineffectiveness of app vetting, making potentially harmful and policy-violation apps sneak into the market from time to time. Therefore, app removal is a common practice, and market maintainers have to remove undesired apps from the market periodically in a reactive manner. Although a number of reports and news media have mentioned removed apps, our research community still lacks the comprehensive understanding of the landscape of this kind of apps. To fill the void, in this paper, we present a large-scale and longitudinal study of removed apps in iOS app store. We first make great effort to record daily snapshot of iOS app store continuously in a span of 1.5 years. By comparing each two consecutive snapshots, we have collected the information of over 1 million removed apps with their accurate removed date. This comprehensive dataset enables us to characterize the overall landscape of removed apps. We observe that, although most of the removed apps are low-quality apps (e.g., outdated and abandoned), a number of the removed apps are quite popular. We further investigate the practical reasons leading to the removal of such popular apps, and observe that several interesting reasons, including ranking fraud, fake description, and content issues, etc. More importantly, most of these mis-behaviors can be reflected on app meta information including app description, app review and ASO keywords. It motivates us to design an automated approach to flagging the removed apps. Experiment result suggests that, even without accessing to the bytecode of mobile apps, we can identify the removed apps with good performance (F1=83%). Furthermore, we are able to flag the removed apps accurately 6 days in advance. To engage the community and facilitate further study along this direction, we will release our dataset to the research community.

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