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Google Kills Top-Selling Antivirus App That Does Nothing for $3.99

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Scamming thousands of users, Virus Shield rose to the top of the Google Play Store by claiming it protected Android devices from viruses. It didn't.

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Ask an Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) user why he prefers Google's mobile OS over Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and he might reference the ability to sideload apps outside the official Play Store. But with great customization comes great responsibility, as the ability to install software not approved by Google is largely responsible for plaguing Android with almost all of the mobile malware found in the market today.

As such, antivirus applications are some of the more popular downloads in the Google Play Store. In fact, one antivirus app called Virus Shield rose to the top of the "New Paid App" category with the promise that it "prevents harmful apps from being installed on your device," "scans apps, settings, files, and media in real time," and "protects your personal information" in exchange for $3.99.

Unfortunately, it did no such thing.

Spotted and decompiled by Android Police, Virus Shield was a complete and total scam, merely changing the icon of a shield to bear a check mark -- which meant it was "working" -- instead of a red X with a single tap on the screen. After looking at the programming code, Android Police determined that it literally did nothing else.

But Virus Shield's promise to protect Android devices managed to fool over 10,000 users. At four bucks a pop, that's a tidy sum for a developer-slash-scam-artist -- especially considering that the app was approved for the Google Play Store and garnered a 4.7-star rating from almost 2,000 reviews.

Thanks to Android Police's report, Google summarily took Virus Shield off the Play Store. However, there hasn't been any official word whether Google will be refunding the $3.99 to users who paid for the app (although some folks have reported on Reddit that they were able to receive a refund after making a special request to the company).

It's a testament to the mixed blessings of an open mobile platform (with a loosely maintained app store) that a fraudulent app like Virus Shield can fool thousands of users and make its way to the top of an online marketplace. If Google hopes to win back the trust of Android owners -- or at least counterbalance the crummy feeling of being scammed -- it must immediately refund the money to those users.

Otherwise, the luxury of an open OS means nothing if you're constantly worried about being ripped off again.
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