Fleeceware apps are charging subscription fees even post-installation

A report from Kaspersky Lab has highlighted how developers are introducing dozens of fleeceware apps on the Google Play Store, offering premium features and charging a lot of money from Android device users as subscription fees.

Fleeceware are nothing but apps being offered on the Google Play Store with premium features and capabilities and that require monthly or annual subscriptions to operate. According to Kaspersky Lab, most of these apps don't offer anything more than what hundreds of free apps do but indulge the curiosity of device users to fleece them of hundreds of pounds in monthly subscriptions.

The security firm noted that many of these fleeceware apps come with limited free trial offers, so users who would normally not spend too much money on paid apps install these apps and uninstall them after the free trial period expires. The users do so to find out what exactly these apps offer in terms of functionality that free apps don't.

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However, in the case of many fleeceware apps, millions of Android device users have been charged subscription fees even after they have uninstalled such apps. This is because such apps require device owners to provide payment card details even before enjoying "free trial" offers and uninstalling these apps does not necessarily mean that users have unsubscribed from such apps.

"Uninstalling the app from the device is not the same thing as unsubscribing. This makes some sense — it prevents you from losing, say, your playlists in a music player app if you delete it by mistake, restore the device’s factory settings, or use the app on a new phone. However, many don’t know about this particular nuance. And even those who do sometimes forget to cancel subscriptions, which is what fleeceware writers feed on," Kaspersky Lab noted.

"You might ask why such apps were allowed onto Google Play in the first place. Alas, technically these “gilt-edged” calculators and QR scanners do not violate the store’s rules. They perform their stated function, do not request unnecessary permissions, and do not contain malicious code. As for the subscription prices, no current rules would bar them from Google Play."

How can mobile device users stay away from fleeceware apps?

The firm added that when Google became aware of such apps, it promptly removed 14 out of 15 reported overcharging apps from the Play Store, but fleeceware apps continue to be introduced on the Play Store by developers looking to earn quick money by preying on the curiosity of device users.

The problem of overcharging apps also tormented iOS device users so beginning with iOS 13, Apple has started warning users who try to delete apps with active subscriptions. This way, users will be able to unsubscribe from such apps before deleting them and save a lot of money in the process.

"Fleeceware exploits people’s natural curiosity and carelessness, as well as their love of free stuff combined with a reluctance to dive into subscription T&Cs. So as not to fall for the trick, be suspicious of anything that looks unusual.

"Do not download apps offering primitive features at exorbitant prices or by subscription. Most likely, there is nothing exclusive about them, save for the price. Before installing an app, read reviews of both it and the developer. Information about related scams is likely to be online.

"If you sign up for a free trial period, and do not plan to pay for the app in the future, make sure to unsubscribe. You can do this in the subscription management section of your Google Play account if you have Android or in iTunes if you have an iPhone or iPad," the firm added.

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