Sunday, 25 September 2011

Market scam: avoid Camera Pro by Mobile Whiz LLD

Free market: pros and cons

Unlike the Apple app store, the Android Market is a free market. Anyone can publish anything without prior censorship.

This freedom is good, but it comes at a price. A free market is more vulnerable to abuse than a closed shop in a gated community. Remember all those apps that ask money for free maps from OpenStreetMap? Or the apps that slap ads on books with expired copyrights, and then receive a daily update as if the writer wrote a final chapter after being dead and buried? You've probably seen that endless stream of vibrator apps too. Same app under a dozen different names, and they get a daily fake update to spam their way to the top of the "just in" section of the market.

Market failure

Another app that abuses the liberties of the free Android Market is Camera Pro by Mobile Whiz LLD.

The offer looks too good to be true. Camera Pro promises thousands of filters and lenses for your phone camera, says it's incredibly fast, and more.

It also claims raving reviews in its market description: "Coolest camera app around! 5 stars! What more could you ask for?"

These reviews are totally fake. Camera Pro put these endorsements on their market page before anyone bothered to leave a real comment. Not that the comments section is of any help, because those comments faked by the developer too.

I saw this app on the market a couple of days ago. I tried it, found that it was not an app but just a frontend for a web site, and it didn't even work. So I left a one star rating and a matching comment. I was the first one to comment, and the first to hand out a star. I had to give it that one lone star because the Android Market won't let you award zero stars, and if you don't give stars you're not allowed to leave a comment.

The next day I saw this app again in the "just in" section of the market. To my surprise my rating and comment were gone, and so were all the other comments that told the truth about the app. Instead, there were three wildly enthousiastic comments and three five star ratings. A low and equal number of ratings and comments usually means that the developer downloaded his own app a few times to write fake comments and cheat the rating system.

When the app got downloaded by others the ratings went downhill and the comments started to reflect the true nature of the app: crapware, and possibly malicious too.

And then it reappeared as if it was brand new. When I looked it has one comment. It's positive beyond reality, so I suspect foul play by the app coder. It had two ratings: a 5* rating from its maker and a 1* rating from a real user.

You can't erase negative comments and low star ratings from an existing app. But you can pull your listing off the market, and then upload the same crap again as if it was a new app. Added three times, twice removed. The same old version of Camera Pro will probably be pulled out and reuploaded tomorrow. And then again and again. How long can Mobile Whiz LLD get away with this before Google kills their market account?

September 26, 2011 update: Indeed, Camera Pro reappeared. Mobile Whiz LLC pulled the "remove and reupload" trick yet again to censor out the real ratings and comments, which tell a truth that the fake ratings try to hide.

Circumventing the rating and comment system is not the only reason why you should stay away from this app. Another reason is that the app doesn't work as advertised. I doubt that it works at all. And there's more:

Malware alert

When you install Camera Pro it demands a long list of permissions. Dangerous permissions. Permissions that can be abused to grab every email address out of your address book and sell 'em to the spambots.

Camera Pro is a photo editing app. But it also wants the flawed "phone state and identity" permission (which means it can read your phone number and IMEI), all your contact data, and access to your SMSs and MMSs. Needless to say, it asks for full internet access too, so it can grab all your private info and send it to who-knows-where.

Wait, that's not all. It wants permission to start all by itself at boot too. Even if you don't launch the app it can do so by itself for no obvious reason. Why would a photo editor need to start automatically when you switch on your phone? Can't it wait until you have a picture to edit?

For all practical purposes Camera Pro should be labeled "malware" until the developer learns about business ethics. My advice: stay away from this app!

September 29, 2011 update: Camera Pro by Mobile Whiz LLC is gone from the Android Market.

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