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Developers shift tactics to rip-off unwary users with fleeceware

Sophos tells us how to avoid being scammed by fleeceware apps as developers shift tactics to rip-off unwary users

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fleeceware apps

Nearly a year on from its first report on ‘fleeceware’ apps that lure customers into paying exorbitant subscription fees, Sophos researchers have released their latest update, Truth-in-advertising policy fails to curb fleeceware.

fleeceware apps

fleeceware apps are real Photo source: Google

Reporting on this issue, Sophos noted that in June, Google updated its developer policies, adding new directives to how apps must inform consumers about the true terms and cost of subscription-based apps licensed through the Android Play Store.

These changes address some of the issues that characterize apps that Sophos refers to as fleeceware.

In this latest report, researchers highlight how devious developers are adapting their apps to appear compliant with Google’s new policies for the Play Store that were designed to prevent customers from getting ripped-off.

This new research by Sophos also reveals:

  • How fleeceware creators are now using misleading language to appear compliant, but are still attempting to dupe unwary users into subscribing for extortionate amounts of money, with some simple wallpaper charging close to US$92 a week!
  • How developers are luring users into a “rabbit hole”, getting them to explore the app beyond the launch page, then bombarding them with pricey and intimidating subscription offers, even when they try to exit the app
  • A list of apps found to be either overcharging customers and violating new anti-fleeceware policies

Well, researchers at Sophos were able to find some developers who hadn’t fully implemented the changes to their app that the platform required.

Some of the app publishers subsequently released policy-compliant apps, but Google removed a few from the Play Store, too.

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Based on the tricks seen deployed by the developers, Sophos offers the following top tips to help users spot and avoid money-snatching fleeceware apps:

  • Check apps for greyed-out/tiny fine print that could include important information on subscription prices
  • Be wary of ‘free trials’, these tend to only last a few days before whacking customers with a hefty automatic subscription
  • Avoid generic, unrecommended apps such as photo editors or wallpaper designers, as these seem to be the most common fronts for fleeceware
  • Report apps you spot which seem to charge extortionate prices for simple services
fleeceware

Source: Sophos

Some of the policy violations shown on these screens include: the absence of a dismiss button; billing details and terms are very small and printed on a very light font that makes it almost unreadable.

You can read more about Fleecware HERE.

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