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Home / Technology / Free navigation apps that only appear as Google Maps with bonus ads

Free navigation apps that only appear as Google Maps with bonus ads



Image: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

One of the supposed benefits of modern app stores is to make it easier for businesses to verify and ensure that the downloaded software is not harmful or malicious. With more than 2.1

million apps on Google Play, sometimes things slip through the gaps, which seems like at least 19 different free navigation apps were actually Google Maps-based knock-outs that were oversaturated with an additional ad level.

First discovered by ESET malware researcher Lukas Stefanko. 19 apps he tested were navigation apps, each with over 1 million installations. This corresponds to an installation base of more than 50 million. Despite claims that these apps can help users to calculate their routes or to include tools such as a compass or a tachometer, every single app had to rely on Google Maps or its API to get the job done.

The main difference between these knock-off apps and real Google Maps was usually a redesigned home screen with an optimized or sometimes stolen interface as a pathway to run working ads while concealing the fact that the app really ran all of Google's data.

To influence, some of these Google Maps clones have sometimes requested permission to access a device's phone dialer and other services that a map app does not normally need. This could pose a potential security risk.

Even more annoying is that despite some star ratings for these apps that should alert other users that these Google Maps surcharges are not legitimate, many still had the overall rating over 4 stars. Fortunately, many of these apps appear to violate the Google Maps Terms of Use, which generally state that customers are not allowed to redistribute Google Maps Core Services or create replacement products and pass them on as if they were something else.

Google Maps knock-offs like these often contain misleading screenshots or stolen UI elements to hide their real Google Maps.
Screenshot: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Since then, Stefanko has reported the 19 offending apps he found. Although some, such as those pictured above, are still available, others have already been removed from the Play Store.

In the end, perhaps the big start to all of this is that there are only a handful of companies like Google, Apple, Here, and a few others that actually have the ability to gather very detailed mapping information. So, if you really like the specific features of a particular app, such as the crowdsourcing notifications you receive in Waze (which is owned by Google and uses Google Maps for general location information), it's best to go straight to the source and one of the big map apps instead.

[via Bleeping Computer]


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