Researchers discovered several Android apps that are overcharging its users up to hundreds of dollars for basic functions such as calculator and QR code scanner.

The app developers are taking advantage of a Google Play Store free trial period policy loophole to overcharge.

Overcharging Android Apps

There have been several reports of Google having to remove apps from the Play Store in recent months, and a new report by SophosLabs is adding to the list. This time, however, the culprit is not malware or adware hiding in apps, but the apps themselves.

According to the report, the apps take advantage of Google’s free trial policy in which users are required to directly cancel their subscription before the free trial period. When they don't, they are automatically charged with the subscription fee once the trial period is over.

While most apps charge a reasonable amount for subscription, the affected apps charge from $100 to $240, a price that is unreasonably high for apps that merely provide basic functions such as GIF makers, calculators, and barcode scanners.

The report even includes screenshots of complaints from users of the apps, some of which relate that they were still charged the subscription fee even after deleting the app the same day that it was downloaded.

‘Fleeceware’

Researchers note that this is neither a result of malware and nor are they considered potentially unwanted apps or PUA. As such they use the term “fleeceware” for the apps because of how they overcharge users for functions that are available in low-cost or even free apps.

Researchers have yet to receive a response from Google as to whether these apps violate any of its policies, but the company has so far removed 14 of the 15 apps that SophosLabs reported. However, researchers discovered even more apps that overcharge, this time with even higher install counts.

“Because the apps themselves aren’t engaging in any kind of traditionally malicious activity, they skirt the rules that would otherwise make it easy for Google to justify removing them from the Play Market,” researchers note. “It’s a business model that walks a fine ethical line, but it is apparently successful. ”

According to researchers, because of the way the apps overcharge, developers tend to make a significant amount of money even if only a few users forget or fail to cancel their subscriptions. As such, they are encouraging Google to strengthen its policies so that developers cannot exploit the loopholes.

As mentioned, 14 of the 15 reported apps have been removed, but a list of overcharging apps still currently on Google Play Store as of this writing can be found here.

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