Fake Android apps in the Play Store are a problem. People create listings designed to look exactly like popular apps, often using the same icon and name, to trick you into downloading it—then bombarding you with ads (or worse, malware).
This issue has been especially prominent lately. A fake version of WhatsApp was downloaded by more than one million people last year, and just this week Reddit’s /r/android community found a fake version of the popular SwiftKey keyboard and an ad-riddled version of VLC on the Play Store. The first two were removed after making headlines, and while Google was initially reluctant to remove the faux-VLC app, it was finally taken down last night after being at the top of the Android subreddit all day. Good work, you guys!
These types of apps are not something to take lightly. Behind the scenes, they’re often doing some very gnarly stuff —like stealing all of your personal info, tracking every move you make, or even worse. ABC News actually did a good analysis of what fake apps are capable of —it’s worth a watch.
So how do these fake apps trick so many people, and what can you do about it?
How These Fake Apps Trick Users
That fake version of WhatsApp—arguably one of the most successful fake apps yet—was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Even the developer name was visually identical. The fraudulent company placed a special hidden character at the end of the developer name , which made look like “WhatsApp Inc.”, but it was technically different thanks to the hidden whitespace at the end of the name. Very clever.
And again, that app was downloaded over a million times before Google removed it from the Play Store. It was so successful because it was so similar to the real WhatsApp listing—the icon, verbiage, and developer name were all similar enough that many users didn’t even raise an eyebrow.
The aforementioned VLC ripoff is a bit different. It’s using VLC’s open-source code and Media Player Classic’s icon, and has over five million downloads . The “developer” here did little more than take a popular (open source) player, load it with ads, then use another player’s icon.
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