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Fleeceware: A New Category of Apps Abusing Play Store Policies

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  • Recently, Google removed 14 fleeceware apps from Google Play. But soon after, nine more such apps were spotted.
  • These apps exploit a loophole in the Google Play Store Privacy Policy to generate high revenues.

What is fleeceware?

Fleeceware is the name given to apps that are not technically malware but do not display acceptable approaches. Fleeceware can be considered as potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) or potentially unwanted applications (PUA).

  • These apps comply with most of the Google Play Store’s regulations. They do not request for unwanted permissions, do not host malware, and perform the stated functions.
  • However, they overcharge users for basic functionalities that are usually provided free of cost or at a low rate by other apps.

What do they do?

Many apps offer users a trial period to test premium features before subscribing to a plan.

  • Some apps require payment card details prior to the start of the trial period. If users aren’t happy with the app during the trial, they have the option of uninstalling it.
  • Google Play policy requires the trial to be terminated before the app is uninstalled because the end of a subscription is not the same as app uninstallation.
  • Many users are unaware of this, and fleeceware applications leverage this to charge huge amounts after the trial period has ended.

Many countries have an upper limit that defines how much apps can charge. But these limits are the same for an app with multiple advanced features and an app with basic features. Actors behind fleeceware leverage this to overcharge.

iOS users also targeted

Fleeceware hasn’t left the iOS App Store alone. Researchers found multiple apps that behaved as fleeceware. This prompted Apple to display a warning in iOS 13 when a user attempts to uninstall an app with an active subscription.

Staying safe

Most users don’t read the terms and conditions in-depth, and this is the loophole that fleeceware leverage. Here are some basic tips for not falling victim to fleeceware.

  • Go through app reviews and developer reviews before installing an app.
  • Remember to unsubscribe before uninstalling any application.
  • If an app seems to offer basic features at a higher than normal price, exercise caution when using the app.
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