Computer security is important, even if the computer in question fits in your hand. There should be no doubt about that fact. However, you should be just as wary of security software as any other app. Case in point: there's a slick new app in the Play Store called Virus Shield. It's got a cool look and it's easy to operate. Just press a single button and your virus shield is activated.
And it's got an impressive 4.7-star rating after over 10,000 downloads. The app description says that it "Prevents harmful apps from being installed on your device," "scans apps, settings, files, and media in real time," and "protects your personal information." Oh, and it has a low impact on battery life, and has "No, ZERO pesky advertisements!"
There's just one problem: it's a complete and total scam. We don't mean in the slightly skeevy way that some anti-virus and general security software overstates dangers and its own necessity. We mean it's literally a fake security app: the only thing that it does is change from an "X" image to a "check" image after a single tap. That's it. That's all there is, there isn't any more.
Let's not mince words here. This is fraud, pure and simple, and the developer "Deviant Solutions" potentially made considerable amounts of money based on a complete lie. We assume that a lot of the initial reviews were fake, but now that it's on the top of the charts, at least a few people will be buying it in the belief that it will protect them.
There is no developer website listed on the Play Store, but a quick search of the developer's email, "[email protected]," reveals very little information. What you can see is a banned account at Sythe.org, where the user "InceptionDeviant" is accused of trying to scam people out of various low-value game items. That's about all we could find.
Unfortunately the wide-open nature of the Play Store means that unscrupulous people can take advantage of it. We usually just post fake apps to the Android Police social accounts and our readers helpfully flag them, but this is such a brazen and expensive fake that we felt the need to give it some special attention. It's somewhat disheartening that an app so obviously fake could rise to the top, especially considering that it's paid, and possibly hundreds or thousands of people have been defrauded already.
What's the solution? We're sorry to say that we don't have one. Any effective way of deterring outright fraudsters like this would go way beyond the basic filtering that Google is doing at the moment, and it would also make the Play Store less "open," if only marginally so. That being said, it's also clear that something needs to be done. Perhaps a more hands-on approach to monitoring apps that rise as rapidly as Virus Shield (which we're almost certain did so with less than genuine downloads and reviews) is called for.
If you'd like to do something proactive, you can report the Virus Shield via the Play Store app. Go to the listing on your device, tap "flag as inappropriate," then tap "other objection" and write out why this guy is a complete jackass. Alternatively, you can report it on the web.
Update April 6, 2014 11:50pm PT: The app has now been taken down.
Update April 10, 2014 10:35am PT: In an interview with The Guardian, the developer claimed Virus Shield was a "foolish mistake" and was supposedly mistakenly uploaded with the antivirus code missing. No explanation was offered for allegedly fake downloads and reviews. We have to question the claim that a company can keep updating an app (from version 1.0 all the way through 2.2) and rack up thousands of paid downloads at $3.99 a pop, all without noticing that its product was in fact doing nothing at all.
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.