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Why You Should Be On The Lookout For Fleeceware Apps


Isadora Teich wrote this article


We have all been in a situation where we sign up for a free trial of something, forget about it, and are suddenly slammed with some kind of fee related to it.

Sometimes companies even renew your monthly or yearly subscription without asking or make it annoying to cancel these subscriptions.

While this is bothersome, fleeceware apps take it to a whole new level. While they look innocent, they may contain print so fine that users barely know what they have signed up for. Sometimes they even pose as extensions or extras on popular games that children love.

The New Zealand Herald reports that in New Zealand alone these apps are taking millions from people.

And this is a global problem. Let’s take a look.

Experts Have Discovered A Big Problem

Security software company Avast, a global leader in digital security and privacy, says it has found more than 200 new fleeceware applications as of March 23rd.

These can be found both on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store. These include music apps, astrology apps, tarot apps, games, virtual slime apps, photo editors, and even plant identification apps.

Here are the full lists of Fleeceware apps discovered on both the Apple and Google app stores. These apps have been downloaded globally over a billion times and stolen more than $400 million from people, with the highest number of downloads in New Zealand and Australia.

Avast says that they have reported the problem to Apple and Google, but so far there has been no response.

How Does Fleeceware Work?

These apps always promise a free trial but have a strangely high subscription fee attached.

Even if users delete the app, they will still be charged until they go into their settings and cancel. Click To Tweet

Some of these apps get away with this by charging such a low recurring amount that people don’t always notice.

Most charge between $4 and $12 a week. However, over time, this can be more than $600 a year. Avast even found one fortune-telling app that charges more than $3000 in weekly fees over the course of a year.

It might seem insane that anyone would download these things in the first place, but there is definitely an element here of these types of apps targeting children and younger people.

They are often aggressively marketed on social media apps, like Instagram and TikTok.

Why Do Google and Apple Allow This?

For one thing, it is incredibly common for all kinds of legitimate apps to offer free trials or versions to users primarily.

One reason they keep sliding through the cracks is that while Google and Apple have rules for developers, there is some gray area. The only thing that separates genuine freemium apps from fleeceware is that fleeceware tends to have hidden costs and be difficult to cancel. Fleeceware doesn’t break app store rules technically by containing hidden malware or stealing user information. It is 100% legal for developers to sell their products at any price they want.

For this reason, while tricking kids into making a $3000 yearly subscription to a palm reading app on their parents’ card is unethical, it doesn’t break any app store rules.

How Can You Avoid Fleeceware?

Especially if you have children using your accounts, make sure all of your payment methods are locked behind a password or biometric check. These types of apps use all kinds of tactics to target children.

This includes colorful advertising and even posing as extensions on their favorite mobile games, like Minecraft. Often apps with super short free trials are suspicious. Also, read the fine print.

Make sure you know exactly how much you will be charged for something. If you can’t find that information, see it stated in a vague and confusing way, or see exorbitant fees, run. In almost all cases you can find the exact same thing at a fair price or even for free.

Check an App’s Digital Presence

If you see an app aggressively advertised on social media, this is a huge red flag.

Lately, I have been attacked by Facebook ads for a tool that is supposed to clean your Macbook. They try to use memes to convince users to trust them and download. Do not download something just because you see ads for it.

Also, do not always trust reviews.

If something only has glowing reviews, that is actually suspicious. It is an especially red flag if all of the reviews are poorly written or basically the same.

No matter how great something is, there is always someone who will not like it. If absolutely no negative feedback exists, or all of the feedback is robotic and repetitive, this could mean that the reviews are fake or the company scrubs all bad reviews from the record.

Think Critically About Marketing Messaging

This is another gray area, and part of why avoiding fleeceware entirely can be difficult. I am sure many of us have had an experience where an influencer tells us to buy something at a certain price, and we try and find out that whatever it is is actually more expensive for fine-print-related reasons.

We have all been bombarded with marketing messaging that tells us that we can save money by spending more our whole lives. Outside of the logic of marketing jargon, that doesn’t make sense.

Obviously, if you were not going to buy a pair of shoes to start with, and you would have kept that money, but now you have two pairs of shoes and spent even more of your money to get a “deal”, you did not save money.

As marketing is full of these tricks, even for legitimate companies, it is possible that most people expect some level of being ripped off.

For example, celebrities who have gotten extensive plastic surgery make millions off skincare lines, claiming that their products alone got them that look.

Most of the people who buy their products probably do not believe that a $15 dollar cleanser will give them the look of a facelift, but buy into it anyway. We accept companies making bogus claims to a degree.

Many people are probably so desensitized to hyperbolic marketing language full of persuasion and bent-truths that another app promising to “change their lives forever” doesn’t even seem that far off.

Final Thoughts

This might seem a bit overwhelming, but what it boils down to is that you should probably trust your instincts. Legitimate apps make it incredibly easy to find out what they do and what the price is.

If you find yourself questioning the legitimacy of an app or digging to try and find out if it’s a scam, that’s already a bad sign.

There are thousands of apps on the app store that all do the same thing, and are perfectly legitimate. If one seems off to you, don’t stress. Just move on.

Have you had any experiences with Fleeceware?

Talk to me.

About Since 2009, we have helped create 350+ next-generation apps for startups, Fortune 500s, growing businesses, and non-profits from around the globe. Think Partner, Not Agency.

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