These ‘free’ Android apps could end up costing you £150 in hidden fees

Experts have warned Android users about apps that charge ‘secret’ fees once their free trial period elapses.

Cyber security firm Sophos says so-called ‘fleeceware’ applications take advantage of Play Market policy loopholes to charge app users huge fees.

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Many of the apps in question have been downloaded by tens of millions of Android phone users.

How does ‘fleeceware’ work?

Sophos says it has discovered a collection of apps on Google’s Play Market which appear to be designed only to severely overcharge users.

Because the apps themselves aren’t engaging in any kind of traditionally malicious activity, Sophos uses the term ‘fleeceware’ to describe them, instead of the traditional ‘malware’.

The apps offer users a free trial period, and take advantage of a loophole in Google’s rules to charge customers once the trial ends. If the user has not uninstalled the app by the time the trial ends and informed the developer that they do not wish to continue to use it, the developer can still charge them.

Sophos says, “Many simply forget to do so, or think that uninstalling the app constitutes a cancellation. But the app developers don’t see it that way.

“In the case of a normal app, this might cost only a few dollars”, Sophos says, but ‘fleeceware’ apps “routinely charge users hundreds of pounds.”

Which apps are considered ‘fleeceware’?

Sophos says the apps tend to have very simple functions - like barcode scanners, calculators, and tools to make animated GIFs. In most cases, they are free alternatives to more well-known apps in the Play Store.

Here is Sophos' list of ‘fleeceware’ apps available to download for Android devices:

QR Code Reader-Barcode Scanner & QR Code ScannerDownloads: 5,000,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

HiddenMeDownloads: 10,000,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

Capture RecorderDownloads: 5,000,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

Screen RecorderDownloads: 5,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £98.27

Old MeDownloads: 50,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

Gif maker editorDownloads: 5,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £188.00

Calculator VaultDownloads: 1,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £89.72

Compass Pro: GPS CoordinatesDownloads: 10,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £188.00

Search By Image: Reverse Image SearchDownloads: 10,000+Charge (after trial period ends): £188.00