We all have hundreds of apps installed on our smart phones for a whole heap of task saving means or just to apply a little self indulgent entertainment on those boring commutes. With so many apps and with many of us constantly downloading new versions or latest methods to service our needs, signing up with a credit card or applying some recurring payment method has become part of the norm.
It’s this norm where many Australians and global citizens are falling victim to a new breed of malicious software costing millions of dollars through hidden app fees.
Fleeceware is designed to severely overcharge users for mobile apps providing simple functions that are often free or cheap elsewhere. App developers take advantage of users by offering short, free trial periods. If a user who downloads and installs a fleeceware app has not uninstalled it and unsubscribed in their subscription settings before the trial ends, the app developer begins to charge the user exorbitant fees.
This is not something to be overlooked. Many of us download a new app on the fly to service a real-time demand with a quick and easy solution, sounds familiar right? As like many things in life, once that solution is done, we have moved on and often won’t think about it again until the demand pops up again, and this is where many are coming undone without even knowing it. Keeping track of apps and monthly subscriptions is hard at the best of times for almost everyone of us.
With an estimated one billion downloads of fleeceware apps globally, more than $400m in revenue has gone to these fleeceware app developers and this number continues to grow. Whatsmore, these applications are also active advertisers on the major social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, increasing their exposure and therefore their profits to unsuspecting users, especially when the endless mindless scroll and click process happens on these networks. In Australia alone, 10 million downloads of fleeceware apps were the highest of any country, costing nearly $10million.
These fleeceware applications consist predominantly of musical instrument apps, palm readers, image editors, camera filters, fortune tellers or QR code readers to name but a few. All often associated with providing a solution to a simple task at hand or something to kill the boredom in the bus queue.
It’s this simple, non-thinking download and use approach, that makes these so dangerous. Younger users are easy targets with free download buttons and flashy ads popping up on their networks. A clear strategy to target these younger users, whose parents usually pick up the tab, and not noticing payments until large sums have already been extracted.
While the applications generally fulfil their intended purpose, it is unlikely that a user would knowingly want to pay such a significant recurring fee for these applications, especially when there are cheaper or even free alternatives on the market.
Apple and Google are aware of these and a growing list is available to search so you can avoid, but this doesn’t solve how we search and use apps as stated above. Fleeceware developers are going to continually create new and different apps to follow public demand and they aren’t exactly breaking the law, just blurring the edges maybe, with their set fees. Morally and ethically though this is a different story, and another example of self gain over others in our world.
As with all things, if it seems too good to be true, it often is, so you should avoid, or at least think twice about it before signing up with your credit card details. Even if you do, maybe pop a reminder in your calendar to review before your free trial expires.
It’s safe to say these apps or developers aren’t going away anytime soon, so probably best to keep wary whenever you can and educate those who might be a little naive to such things.