19
Apr
unnamed (1)

One of the more far-reaching Android Police stories this year was our exclusive write-up of Virus Shield, an impressively popular anti-virus app that managed to make it to the top of the Play Store's sales charts in less than a week, despite the fact that it did absolutely nothing. After digging into the app's code, Artem Russakovskii and various Android Police readers found that it was nothing more than a few images and a toggle. Virus Shield racked up more than 10,000 downloads at $3.99 a pop, and the app was removed from the Play Store hours after our story was published.

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It looks like Google is eager to make amends for allowing a fake app to rise so high in the Play Store. Despite the probability that a large portion of the app's purchases and reviews were fake, Google is issuing full refunds to those who purchased the app, extending well beyond their usual refund window. By way of an apology, they're also giving $5 of Play Store credit to anyone who paid for Virus Shield. The following email was sent to those who purchased Virus Shield during the brief time that it was available:

Hello,

We're reaching out to you because you recently purchased the “Virus Shield” app on Google Play.

This app made the false claim that it provided one-click virus protection; in reality, it did not.

Google Play's policies strictly prohibit false claims like these, and in light of this, we're refunding you for your "Virus Shield" purchase. You should see funds returned to your account within the next 14 days.

Additionally we'd like to offer you $5 promotional credit1, which can be used to purchase digital content on Google Play such as apps, games, books, music and movies.

Your credit redemption code is XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Click or tap here to redeem. For help redeeming, please visit our Help Center.

We're sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused; rest assured that we're always working to make Google Play better for our users.

Thank you,
Google Play Support

I wrote the initial post with Artem Russakovskii's breakdown of Virus Shield, and downloaded it to get screenshots for the article. Despite the fact that I returned the app in time to get my $3.99 back, Google sent me a credit as well.

While it's still somewhat distressing that Virus Shield was allowed to make it to the top of the Play Store's sales charts (again, probably via gamed purchases and reviews), it's certainly encouraging to see Google make amends in such a positive way. We'd like to see some more demonstrable evidence of Google's efforts to remove fraudulent apps from the Play Store, but the refunds and credit definitely show a willingness to improve their products.

Note: the developer of Virus Shield has claimed that the app is legitimate, and that a version without the virus protection included was uploaded to the Play Store by mistake. He claims that he removed the app from the Play Store himself before his developer account was suspended. We seriously doubt these claims, especially in light of the developer's questionable history on other web services.

Michael Crider
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.

  • Avalos

    not that it matters anymore, but that "Click or tap here to redeem" link contains the actual promo code

    • http://thegumshoe.com/ Michael Crider

      Huh. Good thing I grabbed it right away.

      • Stone Cold

        This name is spamming on almost all stories posted today hhualjfpoagag

    • valapsp

      AP redeemed it before posting :D

  • efan

    i did the same. bought, rated it one star, and refunded it and i still go the credit.

  • valapsp

    now i wish i had bought this sh*t. :D

    • alamarco

      Yeah, free $5 for buying it. Not sure what Google's angle is here. Giving the refund is one thing, but now everyone is wishing they installed it. Not like it took any data from the user.

      • DirkBelig

        Google's angle is being super generous after allowing a fake app to not only get into their store, but top the sales charts despite doing nothing but take $3.99 from customers. It's like when a restaurant screws up your dinner so bad, they not only remake it, but they comp your meal and give you a free dessert. Tossing out $50K in credit in order to smooth the PR damage is nothing to Google.

        • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

          Especially considering the money sums that go around these companies

        • EowynCarter

          I think google's point here is "restore confidence"

  • supremekizzle

    Good Guy Google.

    • kekkojoker90

      3G! We got signal!

  • atlouiedog

    I wish I'd bought that. And the Nexus Q. And dumped all of these Beanie Babies 15 years ago. So many regrets.

    • NinoBr0wn

      No Furbies?

      • atlouiedog

        Why would I regret buying three dozen Furbies? You're never alone when you have a Furby!

        • jade laby

          my Aunty Sienna recently got a year old
          Jaguar only from working off a home computer... Recommended Reading F­i­s­c­a­l­P­o­s­t­.­ℂ­o­m

          • Joe

            I hope that year old Jaguar eats your aunty and your computer....gtfo

  • yodatom10

    Way to Go Google & Google Play team

    • someone755

      Yeah, only took them FOREVER.

      • George

        Tell me how 2 weeks is FOREVER again ?!

        • Justin

          For (1 week)
          ever (1 week)

          math, idk what im doing. ^_^

        • someone755

          My sarcasm isn't well received amongst the commenters of this site, I see.
          Though on a more serious note, two weeks is quite a long time for Google to realize this, pull the app and refund the people.

  • stevetherepo

    The code that the author thought they "Xed" out was: BR8PFXGAGCSPCUP
    Yes its been redeemed obviously :P

    You guys need to remove the hyperlink from the link after the code!

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    Yeah, that's great and all...

    But if Google would actually watch its own app store more closely - this shit would've never happen

    • icyrock1

      Do you really want the play store to become a walled Garden?

      • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

        Yes, please! The play store has been begging for that to happen for several years now, just look at all the crap it has inside, all the late releases from iOS, some apps/games missing because they are iOS exclusives

        If Google watched after Play Store in a PROPER way with premoderation and scam filtering and deleting, this store would've become a hundred times better than App Store

        • Sergii Pylypenko

          I can't see how adding moderation to Play Store will speed up releasing those iOS exclusives to Android.
          Although I wish there would be some more advanced system of moderation than a,simple 'Flag this app' button, like a Steam sandbox/beta channel.

          • Jasper Guerrero

            well, i doubt about speeding these exclusive apps to android since APPLE paid some of these ones to be theirs first. like PVZ2.

      • http://thegumshoe.com/ Michael Crider

        Obviously a completely moderated system like Apple's isn't the answer here, but I think keeping an eye on the most popular apps is a reasonable request. In this example in particular, the app rose to the top so rapidly and with so many clearly bogus reviews. I think Google has been doing this long enough that they should have some kind of detection in place for when someone is trying to game the system, in the same way that they protect their search results from SEO spam.

        • paxmos

          And why wouldn't an Apple like system work here?. I think Google like it this way so that they can compete with Apple number wise!!..It is all about the number of Apps each store has nowadays.

          • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

            It could work, and Google might like it, but WE would hate it. It's the EXACT reason we have Android devices instead of Apple. Also, this would do NOTHING to help them compete in numbers. If anything, it would reduce the count of apps.

          • My1

            Well why not do something in-between apple and google.

            when uploading an app it gets checked for some things (like tags and description) nand compare that with the app code, so if (for example) a so-called anti-virus app is doing (almost) NOTHING AT ALL
            or (another example) if an app can load an APK and install it itself (like FB once did) they could warn the user and ask whether it should still be uploaded and then they (google) would not publish it immediately, but rather let the team check it and decide then what to do...

          • Luxferro

            Android is about choice. Apple is about control. Apple tells you what you want, Android lets you decide.

            How's that 3.5" iPhone screen?

          • Marcell Lévai

            Yeah, sure... With the new file management framework, limited sd card access, chrome webview and stuff... Open you eyes please.

          • Luxferro

            I haven't used a SD card since I owned a flip phone like 10 years ago.. okay I lied. I had one on my OG Droid. And I can remember at least 1 time the card just died, along with all my pictures. Internal nand flash storage works fine for me.

          • paxmos

            So, you automatically assume that I am an iPhone user??..my daily driver is a Moto X Dev edition,

          • Luxferro

            It's just a general statement for those that think Apple is so great.

            The last part about the screen was in reference to Steve Jobs saying they didn't need a screen bigger than 3.5"... Just like many things they made fun of Android for, then turned around and copied.

        • willizen

          Perhaps you can explain why Apple's approach is so limiting? I mean, it certainly doesn't seem limiting considering stuff like this doesn't really happen on Apple's app store, and they are still regarded to have the best mobile app store. So they have made it work. And can you not sideload apps on Android that don't meet the store guidelines if you choose to, at your own risk?

          • Andres Schmois

            Well that's simple. On the user end, everyone seems to enjoy it. But then on the developer side you start seeing things that you wouldn't otherwise think about in Google. For example, last time I checked, apps would be released weekly (weekly!!!) imagine if you were a dev that updated an app and fucked up somewhere, you would have to wait a week! Your users would get mad and move on by then. As where Google only takes a few hours.

            Another thing is payment. Google charges 25 bucks one time fee and a portion of paid apps. Apple? 100 dollars a year (for simple accounts, even free app accounts).

            There's a lot more really like annoying app reviews that get declined because of a stupid thing. If Google became like Apple in the app store. All of these things would change.
            Disclaimer: I've never been an iOs dev, just looked into it.

          • twobitcoder

            That 100 bucks a year keeps the stupid garbage apps out of the iOS ecosystem. You know, apps that contain a couple of JPGs for $3.99 that appear to be doing something.

          • Andres Schmois

            And it also keeps all the cool free apps out of the appstore as well. Who in the right mind opens an account by paying 100 dollars yearly but your apps are all free. There are really awesome free apps on the store, how many awesome free apps are on the apple store? Would you pay 100 dollars a year to use an Apple like app store, instead of the devs?

      • willizen

        I suppose you mean more like Apple's app store a.k.a. the best mobile app store out there? I guess that wouldn't be so bad.

  • Android Developer

    What about all the other allegedly Anti-Virus apps? I mean look at all of them: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=anti%20virus&c=apps

    They also do nothing for protection, as there is no such a thing as a virus on Android.
    A virus is an app that spreads by changing the code of other apps. Because there is the sandboxing, such a thing is impossible unless the app got Root permission .

    • Justin W

      The difference is those actually "scan" for malicious activities, while the "Virus Shield" app does literally nothing but change a color.

      • Android Developer

        How would those apps know what is legitimate and what is not?
        All they see is the permission and the code. How would their algorithm know that what the scanned app is doing is malicious? Those "anti-virus" apps can't even stop the malicious apps.
        All they can do is to warn the user about suspected apps.
        The Anti-virus companies always have stretched their definition of malicious apps in their research studies in order to scare people and encourage them to download their anti-virus apps.

        • Justin W

          I don't have answers for that, and I think you and I both know those apps are not necessary on Android, but the problem is the general consumer has no idea and believes everything they see on the internet.

  • Jephri

    Well done

  • hairyback

    Now I can't wait for google to go after this guy. I can't see them letting this slide, especially now that it has cost them something to fix

    • vgergo

      It's generous of Google to give $5 to users, but I guess they will eventually sue Deviant Solutions for this money as "damages"

  • http://twitter.com/rluik Rafael Luik

    They should have used the Google Play remote uninstall feature to clean users' devices, didn't they?

    • Walkop

      Nah, because there's nothing inherently *bad* about the app. It isn't dangerous, just pointless.

      • http://twitter.com/rluik Rafael Luik

        It gives a false sense of being secured for its users, it's bad.

        • pfmiller

          And doing a remote uninstall without the user knowing it does nothing to change this. Notifying users as they did is the right thing to do.

          • http://twitter.com/rluik Rafael Luik

            When have I said they shouldn't have been notified?

  • Henrique Persechini

    On the topic of rating farms, what about the big developers? I mean, cut the rope 2 for instance, at least for the reviews in portuguese, all of the 5 star comments I had the patience to read were auto-translations of simulated english-speaking teenage slang and say not more than just vague "try this, is great" kind of comments.

  • Stanley Lu

    Now I wish I bought the app... but Good job Google!

  • Chris Vander Maas

    I can understand uploading by mistake, each revision is saved as a different name, and sometimes I forget what version is public and what is a test revision; but it's retardedly easy to push an update with the full code out once you realize you've uploaded the wrong APK. What's it take, 5m, max, to open the manifest for the full public version and change the version number to something higher, rebuild the APK, and upload it to your developer account? And most of that time is just waiting for the file to SLOWLY upload to Google's servers. lol LAME excuse!!

  • androidemporium

    Just one thought, if part of the way this was promoted was with fake purchases and reviews does that mean that all the fake purchasers are getting the credit too. If so this could still be a profitable scam

    • http://mavi222.deviantart.com/gallery/ Mavi

      I doubt they will get anything, because they did it with style of buying the app, writing the 5-star review and then refunding, all in the 15 minute time limit, as far as I know. At least I hope it's like that.

  • A2theC

    This app was a false flag movement by apple to discredit the play store to further promote themselves! It's really true, look it up they are already bragging about how this app is exactly what they are always bashing on "inferior devices" such as the malware infested android.

  • XboxOne

    and the Fandroids judge iOS users...

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  • didibus

    I think people who got tricked should start a class action lawsuit on this Dev, show that this kind of behaviour is unnacceptable and liable.

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