Fleeceware apps: Millions of Android users could be charged after ‘free’ trials end

Experts have warned Android users about apps that charge ‘secret’ fees once their free trial period elapses.

Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 12:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th November 2019, 12:43 pm

Cyber security firm Sophos says so-called ‘fleeceware’ applications take advantage of Play Market policy loopholes to charge app users huge fees.

Many of the apps in question have been downloaded by tens of millions of Android phone users.

How does ‘fleeceware’ work?

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“In the case of a normal app, this might cost only a few dollars”, but, Sophos warns, ‘fleeceware’ apps “routinely charge users hundreds of pounds.”

Sophos says it has discovered a collection of apps on Google’s Play Market which appear to be designed only to severely overcharge users.

Because the apps themselves aren’t engaging in any kind of traditionally malicious activity, Sophos uses the term ‘fleeceware’ to describe them, instead of the traditional ‘malware’.

The apps offer users a free trial period, and take advantage of a loophole in Google’s rules to charge customers once the trial ends. If the user has not uninstalled the app by the time the trial ends and informed the developer that they do not wish to continue to use it, the developer can still charge them.

Sophos says, “Many simply forget to do so, or think that uninstalling the app constitutes a cancellation. But the app developers don’t see it that way.

“In the case of a normal app, this might cost only a few dollars”, but, Sophos warns, ‘fleeceware’ apps “routinely charge users hundreds of pounds.”

Which apps are considered ‘fleeceware’?

Sophos says the apps tend to have very simple functions - like barcode scanners, calculators, and tools to make animated GIFs. In most cases, they are free alternatives to more well-known apps in the Play Store.

Here is Sophos' list of ‘fleeceware’ apps available to download for Android devices:

QR Code Reader-Barcode Scanner & QR Code Scanner

Downloads: 5,000,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

HiddenMe

Downloads: 10,000,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

Capture Recorder

Downloads: 5,000,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

Screen Recorder

Downloads: 5,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £98.27

Old Me

Downloads: 50,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

Gif maker editor

Downloads: 5,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £188.00

Calculator Vault

Downloads: 1,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

Compass Pro: GPS Coordinates

Downloads: 10,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £188.00

Search By Image: Reverse Image Search

Downloads: 10,000+

Charge (after trial period ends): £188.00