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Some Android Apps Are Charging People Big Money

By October 5, 2019May 16th, 2022Technology News

Security researchers at Sophos Labs have alerted Google to the presence of more than two dozen apps on the Play Store that are abusing a loophole in Google’s policies that allow them to charge hefty fees to unsuspecting users.  Here’s how it works: Many apps offer a free and a subscription-based service, and many of those allow users to try the full version of the app for a free trial period.

If they decide they don’t want to pay for the full version, they can cancel their subscription before the free trial ends and avoid any fees.

According to the letter of the law of Google’s policies though, canceling a free trial and uninstalling the app in question are two separate events.  Most developers interpret an uninstall as a cancellation of the free trial, but not all.  A few unsavory developers have decided that unless the user specifically cancels their free trial prior to uninstalling the app, they’ll charge them anyway.

In many cases, the charges are modest. However, the worst abusers of this policy have hit unsuspecting users with charges amounting to hundreds of dollars for very simple apps like calculators, GIF creators or QR code readers.

Since being alerted to the issue, Google has removed more than half of the offending apps, but a few of them remain. Be sure you look closely at the terms of any app you install.  The last thing you want is to be hit with a hefty fee for what amounts to a moderately useful app.

It should be noted that the apps in question can, in no way, be described as malware.  They’re perfectly innocent apps that developers have built excessive, even predatory fees into.  Kudos to Google for taking a stand against the practice but we wish they had washed them all away.  As it stands, there are still a few bad actors on the Play Store, so be mindful of that.

Chris Forte

Chris Forte, President and CEO of Olmec Systems, has been in the MSP workspace for the past 25 years. Chris earned his Master’s Degree from West Virginia University, graduating Magna Cum Laude. He was a past member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a current member of the New Jersey Power Partners and Executive Association of New Jersey, where he has previously served on its board of directors. In his spare time, Chris enjoys traveling with his family. He also admits to being a struggling golfer and avid watcher of college football and basketball. He currently lives in Boonton Township, NJ with his wife, two daughters, son, and black lab Luna.