Look out, Android users! If you are thinking of downloading any free apps on the Google Play Store do be sure to check the terms and conditions, especially for those that come with a “free trial period.” That’s because researchers at SophosLabs have discovered at least 15 apps that are charging ridiculous prices for really basic functions and it’s totally legal.
These unscrupulous app developers are taking advantage of a loophole in Google’s Play store licensing regime and charging prices up to USD253 (RM1,058) for an unremarkable app like a GIF-making app. The prices sound really crazy but millions of unsuspecting users have downloaded these apps, not being aware that they will automatically get charged after the trial period ends.
Some of them think that by just uninstalling the app, they have cancelled their subscription – but this is not the case. Generally, these developers offer the apps for a trial period of three days and when the trial expires, the user needs to uninstall and inform the developer that they do not want to continue using the app otherwise they will get charged for it.
SophosLabs have coined the term “fleeceware” for these apps as they are essentially fleecing Android users by overcharging them for basic functionalities such as QR or barcode readers, calculators, tools to make animated GIFs, or photo editors that you can find in free or low-cost apps. Thankfully, these apps are generally not malicious and usually work as advertised but come with a really high price tag.
Users should exercise caution especially when any app asks them to submit details during the trial period and since the prices are listed in small print, they would assume that it would cost only a few dollars or euros. However, SophosLabs say that they found apps charging prices of €219.99 (RM1,010), €104.99 (RM482), and €114.99 (RM528), and some of them have up to 10 million downloads.
In addition, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way for users to recover their money after they are unwittingly charged for it. SophosLabs researchers discovered that Google didn’t realise there was such a problem until they notified the tech giant about malicious or exploitative behaviour. Google did not notice that users were giving bad reviews until they were notified but thankfully, 14 out of the 15 fleeceware apps have already been removed.
However, just like a many-headed Hydra, SophosLabs discovered that there is another batch of apps that have even more downloads than the first that are still available on the Play Store. While this may be a slightly “grey area”, users should really be careful when asked for any payment information and check the terms and conditions otherwise you may end up paying hundreds of ringgit for no reason.
It’s best to really go through the fine print before you download something into your phone!
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