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Security & privacy

Check your phone! These copycat apps are spreading spam

When it comes to apps, there’s plenty to choose from. Whether you’re using an Android device or an iOS phone or tablet, you have options for productivity apps, entertainment apps, sleep apps or even meditation apps.

Not all are destined to stay in the app stores for long, though. Both Google and Apple are known to remove apps that are problematic or violate their terms of service. Both Apple and Google pulled the social media app Parler recently, too.

There are tons of different reasons apps are removed from an app store. Over the years, Google, in particular, has been quick to pull apps for problems with deceptive practices. In fact, the tech giant just pulled a bunch of apps from the Google Play Store for spreading spam.

Google just pulled a collection of spammy apps

According to a White Ops report, these apps were pulled because they were CopyCatz apps. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it means they were mimicking popular apps to trick users into downloading them.

If you downloaded one of these apps, you might have been inundated with a ton of out-of-context ads when you opened it. If you’re an Android user, there’s a good chance you did fall for one of these CopyCatz apps. They had a whopping 10 million downloads in total.

The main problem with these apps stems from the ad tactics they use. They were removed for using out-of-context or out-of-app ads, which have been banned from the Play Store since early 2020.

These ads are problematic because they are shown inside of a pop-up or take over the entire screen of your device, separate from the app. In other words, the apps are causing pop-up ads to take over your phone, not the app.

Related: Malware spreading through 19 apps you need to delete right now

Google banned these types of apps from the Play Store in February 2020 in major part because they make it impossible for users to determine the app from where the ad originated. This opens a big loophole for silent ad spam to appear on Android devices.

That ban removed over 600 apps from the Play Store. However, the tech giant was forced to intervene again in June and October of 2020, just a few months after the massive sweep was done. That removed about 280 more apps in total for the same problematic ads.

This latest sweep removes another 170 or so from the Play Store. That may seem like a massive number of apps to remove, but it’s a necessary step for Google to take. These types of apps copy both functionality and names from popular apps to get quick downloads — and then cause major issues for users.

What to do if you’ve already downloaded these apps

While the apps being removed from the Play Store will stop further downloads, it won’t pull the apps from your phone if you’ve already downloaded them. You’ll need to take the time to delete these apps manually from your phone. Otherwise, you could end up with a pop-up ad issue that you can’t get rid of.

If you’re an Android user, you need to take the time to remove any suspicious apps from your phone now. This will help keep any ad issues at bay.

Related: 8 must-have Android apps you’ll use again and again

The 20 apps with the most downloads that were removed from the Play Store include:

  1. iSwipe Phone X
  2. DJ Mixer Studio 2018
  3. Ringtone maker – Mp3 cutter
  4. AppLock New 2019 – Privacy Zone & Lock your apps
  5. Wifi Speed Test
  6. Wps Tester
  7. Secure Gallery Vault: Photos, Videos Privacy Safe
  8. Ringtone Maker Ultimate: New Mp3 Cutter
  9. Wifi Key – Free Master Wifi
  10. Video Music Cutter & Merge Studio
  11. WPS WPA Wifi Test
  12. Photo Editor Awesome Frame Effects 3D
  13. OS Launcher 12 for iPhone X
  14. OS 13 Launcher – Phone 11 Pro Launcher
  15. Name Art Photo Editor
  16. Lock app with Password – Applock All App Protector
  17. GPS Speedometer
  18. Battery Saver Pro 2020 – New Power Saver
  19. 3D Photo Editor
  20. Assistive Touch 2020

Want to know what else was pulled? You can find a full list of the apps here.

To avoid these types of issues in the future, make sure that you’re getting the official version of the app before you download anything from the Google Play Store. Look at the reviews, and not just the five-star reviews, but also the one- and two-star reviews. These less-stellar reviews will tell you if there’s something amiss with the app you’re about to download.

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