Apr 08, 2014

How to protect against scam apps like “Virus Shield” in Google Play?

I don’t know how widely known this story is, but there was a highly rated app called Virus Shield in Google Play that had around 10,000 installs. People liked it, it didn’t slow down their Android phones and tablets like some other apps, and it had a very simple interface. Turns out, it didn’t slow down their devices because all it did was display a couple of images. It didn’t do anything to protect the devices whatsoever. What it did do was get 10,000 people to pay $3.99 for it. How can apps like this be avoided?

A lot of this is up to Google, not the individual user. They have to take steps to fix this problem before the apps are even released in the Google Play store. There's not much an individual user can do to combat this since Google Play is supposed to be a trusted source.

Does Google need to lock down the Google Play store?

"Disturbing reports about fake Android apps are nothing new, but the latest one involves an app called Virus Shield. It sold for $3.99 and promised to improve the security of Android devices. Unfortunately, as Android Police discovered, it actually did nothing at all except to fleece users of their hard earned money. The app has since been pulled from the Google Play store, but the damange has already been done.

All of this has got me wondering if it’s time for Google to consider locking down the Google Play store."
Sometimes you do everything right and still get burned. The four things I always tell people who are very cautious about installing apps are (1) stick with Google Play Store or Amazon, (2) check the permissions you are granting, (3) make sure it has a large enough install base for there to be meaningful feedback, and (4) check the feedback to see what other people have experienced with the app. If you did all four of these things, you could still have installed Virus Shield.

It’s not really Google’s fault. It wasn’t malware, so there was nothing to pick up on a scan. There was hardly any code there at all, in fact. The app didn’t damage anything or steal data (as far as I know), so I can see how it would slip through the cracks. The sad thing is the person who made this “app” also made thousands of dollars from his victims. True, it was only $4 per victim, but what a lowlife way to make a buck.
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