As part of our regular monitoring of Google Play, this morning we noticed an eye-catching wallpaper app called Super Wallpaper in Google’s top free apps list.
It wasn’t the lurid graphics that caught our attention though, so much as the numbers. One million downloads is a lot. It’s not unusual, but it’s still a lot. And while a three-star rated app isn’t unusual either, it is unusual in a “Top” free app with 1 million downloads. It would imply that it was once closer to a 5-star app, but then something changed.
It’s possible users simply didn’t care about the quality of the app, or maybe the wallpapers were amazing. But we suspected a sting in the tail, and the comments confirmed it. We’ll let Google Play commenter, Page Weatherly, explain:
This app said it would be free, but then it makes we pay 200$ a year for a few wallpapers. This app deserves 0 stars but sadly you can’t rate it that.
You read that right: The sting in its tail was a £179.99 annual subscription. For wallpaper. Now, I love wallpaper as much as anyone, but that’s about £10 per square inch. For that kind of money I could be decorating my whole house with actual rolls of hand-printed Gucci wallpaper.
Almost nobody in their right mind is going to pay that knowingly, and that’s exactly what the app developers are hoping.
While Google has succeeded in squeezing most of the viruses and malware out of Google Play, shady characters have simply turned to making money from tactics like this instead. It’s known in the cybersecurity industry as fleeceware.
The fleeceware authors simply hope that enough people who install the app won’t be paying attention when it mentions the subscription price. And since people are habituated to clicking through dialogs and notifications without paying attention, it works.
No filtering system is perfect, so it isn’t reasonable to expect Google’s review process to catch every scammer and chancer, but finding things like this should at least be difficult. So we thought we’d see if we could find another one.
It didn’t take long. Meet Magic Wallpaper.
It’s only listed as having 50,000+ downloads but, somehow, despite charging exactly the same fortune, £179.99, for a few brightly coloured pixels as Super Wallpaper, it’s rated far worse, at 1.7 stars.
There is no attempt to deliver a fair product for a fair price in these apps, it’s just bait and switch, and as such we think they have no place on Google Play. It’s time to tear down these rip-offs, Google.
What to do
If you’ve fallen for one of these scams, don’t worry, the subscriptions are easy to cancel:
- Open the Play Store app
- Click the hamburger icon, top left
- Click Subscriptions
- Click the subscription you don’t want
- Click Cancel subscription
Signing certificate hash:
Signing certificate hash: