Security researchers have discovered over 30 “fleeceware” apps in the App Store. Fleeceware is a relatively new cybersecurity term that was originally used for Android apps that abuse the trial periods and charge users even if they have uninstalled the apps. Over 25 Android apps were found fleecing users earlier this year, and now dozens of iOS apps have been found doing the same thing. These iOS apps are charging subscription rates as high as $30 per month or $9 per week after a 3- or 7-day trial period – even though the user has uninstalled the app.

Research firm Sophos has discovered these fleeceware iOS apps on the App Store. Over 3.5 million users have installed these fleeceware apps from the Apple App Store. As mentioned, some of these apps charge up to $30 per month that means that if a user kept paying for this app unknowingly, they would be charged $360 per year – just for an app that they no longer even use. Most apps consider a ‘uninstall’ as cancellation of subscription and the few that don’t – explicitly ask users to cancel subscription to prevent being charged unnecessarily. These fleeceware apps not only make cancellation of subscription a highly complicated affair, but they also keep charging the user even after the app is uninstalled – without intimating the user.

Sophos has discovered that most of these fleeceware apps are image editors, horoscope/fortune telling/palm readers, QR code/barcode scanners, and face filter apps for adding silly tweaks to selfies.

One of the fleeceware apps, Zodiac Master Plus, is listed on the App Store as the 11th highest revenue-generating app. For those unaware, Apple gets 30 percent of the revenue any app makes via the App Store in the first year. Another fleeceware app called Lucky Life – Future Seer generates more income than Britbox – UK’s most popular subscription streaming TV service, according to Sophos.

These apps are often installed by users due to heavy advertising across social platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. However, the best practice before installing any app should be to check reviews. Most of these apps have a pool of negative reviews revealing their bad and unethical behaviour.

Sophos has released the list of fleeceware apps on App Store, and if you accidentally happen to have any of these on your iPhone, uninstall them immediately, and cancel your subscription. To cancel your subscription, head to Settings > Tap your name > Subscriptions > Tap on the app name > Choose a different subscription option, or tap Cancel Subscription. If you don’t see “Subscriptions” in the Settings app, Click on iTunes & App Store > Apple ID > View Apple ID > Sign in and scroll down to Subscriptions, then tap Subscriptions.

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Tasneem Akolawala

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