An unscrupulous developer has managed to turn a useless Android app into a temporary hit on the Google Play store — again. As noted by Android Police, a $3.99 app called Virus Shield recently skyrocketed up the “top paid” chart. It was eventually pulled down by Google, but not before tallying over 10,000 downloads according to its Play listing. Created by a developer under the guise of Deviant Solutions, Virus Shield promised to prevent “harmful apps from being installed on your device.” (Antivirus software is often completely unnecessary for Android users, yet the category has consistently proven lucrative for app makers.)
The premise behind Virus Shield was easy to understand: “improve the speed of your phone with just one click.” Tapping the screen once would, according to the description, scan your apps, settings, files, and media to protect your personal data from malicious hackers. But in reality, the app did absolutely none of that. Android Police dug into Virus Shield’s code and found that it was “totally and completely devoid of any security benefit.” Toggling the app into “on” mode simply switched the main graphic so it would display a check mark — creating a completely false sense of security. Yet somehow a fraudulent app managed to earn a 4.7-star review average in the time it remained on Google Play. That rating was no doubt boosted by fake reviews, but it’s likely that at least some real users started to purchase Virus Shield as it shot up Google’s charts.
Bogus and misleading apps have had a home on both Android and iOS for years, and the problem doesn’t seem to be improving much. Pimp My Keyboard Pro is currently in 19th place on the “top paid” App Store chart, and another questionable app ranks even higher. The “open” nature of Google Play can sometimes exacerbate the issue — as evidenced by Virus Shield. Google faces a tall task in trying to eliminate these annoyances. For now, the best strategy may be to hammer home the idea that your smartphone doesn’t need any added protection. The ugly trend won’t stop if consumers don’t wise up. But at the same time, Google should be taking real steps to prevent confusion wherever possible. So far, the company has decided against banning the antivirus category altogether.