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Fleeceware Apps Still Highlighted On Google Play

Google Play continues to be a home for “fleeceware” whereby Android users run the risk of being charged hundreds of dollars for “subscriptions” to apps they never ordered, according to security outfit SophosLabs.

The company has reported how some app publishers using the Google Play Store have devised a business model in which users could be charged excessive amounts of money for apps if they don’t cancel a “subscription” before the short free-trial window closes.

The total number of installations of these apps, as reported on Google’s own Play pages, run to almost 600 million in total, across fewer than 25 apps.

A few of the apps on the store appear to have been installed on 100 million+ devices, which would rival some of the top, legitimate app publishers on Google Play.

Jagadeesh Chandraiah, a nine-year veteran of SophosLabs specialising in Windows and mobile malware analysis, said that, while Google has taken down all the apps posted in a previous report in September, fleeceware remains a big problem on Google Play.

“Since our September post, we’ve seen many more Fleeceware apps appear on the official Android app store,” Chandraiah said. “We have good reason to believe that the install count may have, in some cases, been manipulated.”

According to Sophos, user reviews reveal serious complaints about overcharging, and that many of these apps don’t work as expected. Many claim they followed the subscription model’s rules to unsubscribe – but were charged full price anyway.

Chandraiah said that Fleeceware apps often charge a very large amount, which the publishers characterise as an annual subscription to their software.

For example if you were charged more than $200 for an app, you might be able to justify it as being “only” $16.67 a month, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that the app merely does, for example, a reverse-image search — something Google offers as a free service, anyway.

In a typical fleeceware subscription prompt, the app displays, for example, daily horoscopes for “only” $69.99 a week, which adds up to an annual price of $3639.48.

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