Downloading a free antivirus or cleaning app for your Android smartphone can put your privacy and security at risk only if you avoided it completely, as many of these apps contain data trackers and even links to potentially malicious domains.
To compile his new report, Cybernews studied the 40 top-ranked and most downloaded Android cleaner and antivirus apps on the Google Play Store to find that many of these apps do not meet the high standards of similar desktop software. Worse still, between them, these apps have been installed over 918 million times and the most popular ones each have over a million installs.
Cybernews‘ The research team provided additional information on their findings and explained why users might be tempted to download these apps in a blog post, saying:
“Based on total installs, common Android users are keen to protect their phones from malware and want their devices to run as fast as possible by cleaning junk files and cache. tech savvy are likely to download an app to do all this tedious work automatically, however many of the options available for free have a hidden price – user data is tracked, sold, or simply handled insecurely due to coding practices and questionable privacy policies from app developers.
Red flags galore
After taking a deep dive into each of the 40 apps in question, Cybernews then gave each a security score out of 100.
13 of the apps were deemed by the outlet to be so privacy-damaging that they were given the lowest possible rating due to “questionable coding practices”, while six contained malicious links that could expose users to ‘Android to securing their devices. having your smartphone hacked.
Antivirus app Keep Clean Cleaner took the top spot among these bad apps with a score of 54 out of 100 for security. Meanwhile, last place went to Safe Security Antivirus booster and phone cleaner app which received a score of nine.
Cybernews was unable to analyze two of the 40 apps, likely due to obfuscation, a method developers employ to avoid reverse engineering. However, obfuscation can also be used to conceal something malicious like malware.
It should be noted that almost all of the 40 apps contained trackers and some only had a handful, others like Nova Security had thirty.
If something is free, there is always a cost and in the case of these antivirus and cleaning apps, it’s your privacy and potentially your security. While normally reading reviews, checking ratings, and seeing an app’s download count is enough to let you know if it’s legit, that’s not always the case, as shown Cybernews‘ latest report.