Researchers at Avast discovered a total of 204 fleeceware apps with over a billion downloads and over $ 400 million in revenue on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. This comes when Apple faces increased scrutiny of scams in the App Store.
This is not the first time someone has highlighted scams in the App Store. Last month, a developer exposed several scams in the App Store, some of which had millions of dollars in revenue. The same developer is now suing Apple for missing the police in the App Store.
First of all, it is important to explain what fleeceware is: it is a term that refers to a mobile app that comes with excessive subscription fee. For example, most apps include a short free trial, but these fleeceware apps take advantage of users unfamiliar with how subscriptions work on iPhones or other Android devices and charge higher fees.
In a blog posts, Avast explains how fleeceware scams promise free subscription attempts, but deliver costly costs to victims.
These applications usually have no unique functionality and are just channels for fleeceware scams. Avast has reported the fleeceware applications to both Apple and Google for review.
The Avast research points to the following categories of apps most exposed to fleeceware:
- Musical instrument app
- Palm readers
- Photo editors
- Camera filters
- Fortune tellers
- QR code and PDF readers
- Slim simulators
While most apps work, a user is unlikely to want to pay a significant recurring fee for them, especially when there are cheaper or free options on the market.
It seems that part of the fleeceware strategy is to target younger audiences through playful themes and catchy ads on popular social networks with promises of ̵6;free installation’ or ‘free download’. By the time the parents notice the weekly payments, the fleece product may have already withdrawn significant amounts of money.
How can the Apple App Store and Google Play Store fight fleeceware scams?
Avast provides a few solutions that Apple and Google should follow. First, the researchers believe that companies should change the way subscriptions work. If a user downloads a free app with a trial version, after this trial period has ended, the store should send a notification if the user wants to subscribe to the app and not automatically start charging immediately after it is finished.
Another option is to provide a better popup when deleting an app you are subscribing to. Apple and Google are already notifying the user when they try to remove an app you are subscribing to, but Avast thinks it could be better.
A growing trend is that several popular applications have converted to the subscription-based fleeceware model. Programs that were previously free or required a one-time fee to unlock all the features now offer expensive weekly subscriptions. Judging by the reviews, sometimes users who have previously paid for the entire application are also forced into the fleeceware subscriptions without accessing the already purchased app. It is likely that more developers will follow, since revenues from fleeceware are obviously significant.
Avast also provides some tips to avoid fleeceware scams:
- Be careful with free trial periods of less than a week
- Read the small print
- Be wary of viral ads
- Shop around
- Secure your payments
- Discuss the dangers of fleecewear with your family
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