Google Play store is reportedly plagued with over 15 fake GPS apps that use unfair tactics to show ads to users and make money unethically. These apps are positioned as navigation apps, but once installed; these apps reportedly just open Google Maps or use its API without any additional value for the user, except for displaying ads. These fake apps have been reported to Google by ESET malware researcher Lukas Stefanko a month ago, but the tech giant is yet to take any action.
Stefanko found these 15 fake GPS apps over a month ago on Google Play, and these apps collectively have gathered over 50,000,000 installs. The list includes GPS Route Finder, GPS Live Street Maps, Maps GPS Navigation, and more. The researcher claims that these apps serve no additional value or use, but are only riddled with ads. Some of these apps don't even have proper app icons, and are clearly fake apps published to make revenue through unfair means.
Stefanko says, "These apps pretend to be full featured navigation apps, but all they can do is to create useless layer between User and Google Maps app. They attract potential users with fake screenshots stolen from legitimate Navigation apps. Purpose of these apps is ad revenue (easy money). They don't have any Navigation technology or know-how, they only misuse Google Maps. Once user clicks on Drive, Navigate, Route, My Location or other option, Google Maps app is opened." All of the 15 apps can be seen in the image below.
One of the apps even asks for money to remove these ads, which means that an unaware user is shelling up cash for a service that is free and is already pre-installed on his Android phone - Google Maps. These apps also ask for permissions to access contacts and messages, which could lead to potential data theft. Stefanko has reported these apps to Google over a month ago, and while the tech giant is fast to respond to such reports, these apps still exist in Google Play.
He further points out that the 'Recommended For You' section in the Maps and Navigation category in Google Play gives useless apps more priority over legit apps like Tom Tom, Waze, or Sygic. Google's lack of strict scanning methods before an app listing goes live, is one of the reasons why such apps exist and are able to make cheat revenue. To top it off, Google's complacency in removing these apps is more reason for critics to prefer iOS over Android. We hope the tech giant takes action soon. Until then, we recommend you stick to Google Maps for your navigation needs.