App Fraud: Fleeceware – A New Take on an Old Problem

Oct 04, 2019
By: Marissa Camilli

Your job as an app marketer is difficult enough without the seemingly ever-present problem of fraud in the Google Play Store. While Google is committed to providing a safe environment for smartphone owners to download new and exciting apps, the sheer volume of apps added to the marketplace, more than 6,000 every day, makes it nearly impossible for the occasional “bad egg” not to slip through their quality control.

This week, another category of fraudulent app joined the ranks of illicit downloads (malware, fake apps, etc.) in the Google Play Store. Described by the security firm Sophos as Fleeceware, several apps positioning themselves as simple applications like basic calculators and QR code scanners hit their users with exorbitant charges of between $100 and $240 per download following a short free trial period.

Apps on the Edge of Legality

Google’s terms and conditions allow developers to offer a free trial period (a minimum of three days) for their paid-for apps and insist users must cancel their subscription before uninstalling the app to avoid any charges. Unfortunately, because users don’t typically read the fine print – many people believe that uninstalling the app from their device will automatically cancel their subscription. Fleeceware takes advantage of this complete lack of awareness.

Highlighting the problem of Fleeceware, a spokesperson for Sophos said: “These applications evaded Google’s attention by staying on the razor’s edge of legality, and exploited the fact that most people avoid reading the fine print.”

Suggesting how easy it was for unscrupulous developers to sneak these often poorly built apps into the eco-system, the spokesperson continued: “Worse, these apps are not even particularly good, unique, or effective.”

The apps, most of which (at the time of writing) have been removed from the Google Play Store but not before being downloaded more than 20 million times, have potentially earned their developers many thousands of dollars from naïve users whose only mistake was not reading the terms and conditions when they downloaded the app.

More concerning, since their initial report, Sophos claims to have found even more examples of Fleeceware on the Google Play Store that are still actively fleecing unsuspecting users.

Smartphone Users Are Worried About Fraud

Smartphone users are rightly concerned about app fraud. This is because we put a lot of trust in our smartphones. In fact, our smartphones probably know us more than our nearest and dearest. When 63% of smartphone users have at least one financial app on their device, many understand that it is unwise to risk the security of their smartphone with an app they don’t know if they can trust or not.

Further Reading: Can You Bank on the Google Play Store’s Security?

Trust, or the lack of it, is just one reason why more than half of all smartphone users will never visit the Google Play Store to download an app. Another batch of headlines across the web and print media warning an already skeptical public about the dangers of Fleeceware won’t help.

Built-in Trust

With so many smartphone users, giving the Google Play Store a wide berth, app developers need to look towards alternative marketing strategies to drive app engagement — alternative app marketing strategies that people can trust.

For developers looking for a more secure and trusted route to marker, app marketing strategies like Digital Turbine’s Pre-Loaded campaigns and SingleTap™ installs come with built-in trust.

  • Pre-Loading: Digital Turbine work with leading smartphone manufacturers (OEMs) and mobile networks to create opportunities for app developers to place their apps on brand new devices. With a pre-loaded campaign, there is no need to download and install your app, it’s just there from the moment of unboxing — which is also the moment of maximum engagement. In fact, in the eyes of the smartphone owner, your pre-loaded app is an integral part of their new, cherished and much-trusted device.
  • SingleTap™ Installs: Allows brands to bypass the Google Play Store and promote their apps via trusted channels like email marketing, promotional pages or banners on their mobile website, or links on their verified social media channels. SingleTap™ does exactly what it says on the tin – it allows users to download and install an app from a single tap. There are no sudden changes in brand experience or additional steps which lead to user confusion and may persuade them to abandon the download.

To learn more about how Digital Turbine can place your app in front of the right person at the right time with Pre-Loading and SingleTap™ Installs, talk to one of our app marketing experts today. We’ll give you a solution you and your users can trust.

Marissa Camilli
By Marissa Camilli
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