There are many types of malicious apps
running rampant in Google's Play Store, ranging from good old fashioned adware
, but Android users may need to be more concerned about a relatively new phenomenon discovered and documented by security researchers over at SophosLabs that pushes the boundaries of what is traditionally considered malware.
The so-called "fleeceware" plague may have affected more than 600 million users in total by a new count
that covers just 21 surprisingly popular apps. Obviously, it's impossible to know how widespread this disease really is across the entire Google Play platform, which reportedly counts around 2.9 million titles published as of December 2019.
As their label suggests, these apps are designed to fleece unsuspecting Android users by overcharging them for weekly, monthly, or annual access to services and tools as basic as fortune-telling (yes, really), video editing, screen recording, and selfie beautification. In most cases, app developers looking to rip you off will offer short free trials to get you started, then charging you obscene sums of money for "premium subscriptions" insufficiently detailed or highlighted during the registration process.
These are only a few of the apps found to be fleecing their subscribers
A common practice employed by many of these largely obscure companies to make big bucks off careless users seems to be charging for subscriptions even those people that uninstall their apps before the free trial period concludes. While most devs acting in good faith would interpret that as a clear sign that their "subscribers" want out before having to actually pay anything, the villainous minds behind the rapidly spreading fleeceware epidemic will not cancel your subscription unless you explicitly ask for that.
In certain cases, users complaining about the malicious behaviour of the apps monitored by Sophos even claim their credit cards were charged after cancelling their subscriptions during the free trial window, which definitely crosses the border between shady and outright heinous practices.
Without further ado, here are the 21 Android apps (ordered by popularity) identified as fleeceware that you need to avoid at all costs so you don't risk spending a small fortune on substandard services or features you may not even end up using:
- GO Keyboard
- GO Keyboard Lite
- GO SMS Pro
- Z Camera
- S Photo Editor
- GO Security
- Wonder Video
- V Recorder
- GO Recorder
- Master Recorder
- Face X Play
- Photo Recovery & Video Recovery
- V Recorder Lite
It's especially important to remember those names or bookmark this page, as every single title on the list is still available for download on Google's Play Store. For what it's worth, the search giant did ultimately kick out all of the fleeceware apps labeled as such by Sophos back in September
, so sooner or later, we expect the same to happen to all the titles listed above.
By the way, if you're wondering how some of these largely unknown apps have been able to exceed impressive install tallies of 5, 50, and even 100 million, the answer is probably as nefarious as their fleeceware tactics. Specifically, paid services supplying a large number of phony 5-star reviews, as well as artificially bloated install figures.
Even for that reason alone, Google has to eject these apps immediately and prevent them from ever returning to the official Play Store. Of course, this is just one of the many security issues
the search giant needs to deal with, and devising a universal solution to spot fleeceware apps early or even block them from entering Google Play in the first place is much easier said than done.