Well, it seems we’re starting 2020 off with a string of sketchy Android app news, with a new report identifying a set of so-called “fleeceware” apps to steer clear of. And this report follows the group of apps we told you about only a day ago which bombard users with ads, drain their phone’s battery, and more.
Fleeceware apps are those caught abusing the trial period that Android apps can run before a user is hit with their first charge. A new report from UK-based cybersecurity firm Sophos says this new group of apps — which ostensibly have racked up more than 600 million installs among them — can hit users with big charges once a trial subscription period closes and the user hasn’t formally canceled in time. These charges also ignore the fact that the user may have deleted the app from their device, which some (but not all) apps take as a sign the user wants to cancel a subscription or trial offer.
“One reason Sophos wants to create awareness, and highlight this Fleeceware business model, is that this business model can cause significant harm to users, and there’s little recourse,” the UK firm notes in its report. “The Google Play Store policies are significantly less consumer-friendly than US credit card policies; Those who managed to get refunds have been able to obtain them only with great difficulty.”
One of the apps cited by Sophos is called Fortunemirror, which advertises a daily horoscope service that lets you test drive it for free, after which it costs $69.99/week (adding up to $3,639.48 for the year!):
The apps in this group also present multiple opportunities for users to be confused, as some of them also apparently show a monthly subscription rate on one screen and then a different weekly rate on another screen. Adding to the problem: The Sophos team suspects that some of these apps created a large number of positive (but artificial) reviews, to imply legitimacy.
What can users do about it? One easy step if you’re worried is to search for similar apps from a developer or publisher with a solid reputation. “If you do happen to have a free trial,” the Sophos team continues, “make sure you understand that merely uninstalling the app does not cancel the trial period.
“Some publishers require you to send a specific email or follow other complicated instructions to end the free trial before you are charged, though you might just need to log into your Google Pay to cancel. Keep copies of all correspondence with the publisher, and be prepared to share that with Google if you end up disputing the charges.”
The apps the Sophos team identified include:
- Face X Play
- GO Keyboard
- GO Keyboard Lite
- GO SMS Pro
- GO Recorder
- GO Security
- Z Camera
- Master Recorder
- S Photo Editor
- Wonder Video
- Photo Recovery & Video Recovery
- V Recorder