The only junk on your phone is your "junk cleaner" app, and here's the proof
It really is remarkable just how awful the depths of the Play Store can get and just how little policing actually occurs during Google’s app vetting process. Just search for any semi-popular app and scroll down – there, you'll find all the knockoffs with a suspiciously similar name, the copious amount of “guides” for the app, the so-called extensions which do pretty much nothing useful, and so on. Each one of these had to be approved to get to the storefront, and apparently did so without a hitch. And let’s not even start with all the malware incidents during the platform's relatively short life. What we want to discuss here, though, is something else entirely - while all of the above are real problems, most of the time they're not famous enough to warrant discussion.
Surprise, surprise – they’re all crap
Mind you, the tests we performed were far from scientific, but even then, every one of the apps we chose was obviously designed specifically to take advantage of its users, while providing no useful functionality in return. Unless you count riddling your phone with adware as useful, of course – there was plenty of that.
So it seems logical Google would want to get rid of such scam apps, wouldn’t it? Yes, and that’s precisely… wait, what?
How naïve of us to think a billion-dollar corporation would actually care for its users - no, the reality is that these apps rake in a ton of cash, and Google, their biggest ad provider, gets a significant cut of it. So it’s only natural for the company to want to promote them, nevermind affected consumers.
no, grandma, your phone isn’t at riskBut it isn’t just Google’s fault, really – for this whole genre of scam apps to be as successful, there must be people willing to use them. And this is precisely where decades of marketing come into play – it wasn’t so long ago when a computer without some sort of antivirus installed was considered pretty much unusable online. This paranoid line of thinking – that one is always threatened online, that there’s always something wrong with their machine – seems to have stuck through the years, and now is precisely what scammers are banking on.
We analyzed five of the most popular “cleaner” apps on the Play Store, chosen from the daily list of most downloaded apps, as provided by AppAnnie. Each app was installed on a freshly reset Blu Vivo XL running Android 5.1 Lollipop. All traffic on the device was captured using Fiddler, a free network analysis tool. We spent a few minutes with each app, trying out most of its advertised features, save for those which required creating a user account or installing a separate app.
It turns out math is a much more malleable concept than we previously thought, and it’s the folks at PSafe we have to thank for the realization – somehow DFNDR managed to give us “700MB speed-up memory”, despite free RAM staying at almost the same amount before and after the app’s usage. The same thing happened with its junk data removal tool, which did absolutely nothing. For what it’s worth, however, its “antivirus” did send some data to a web scanning service, but most of the time the scan consisted of downloading ads. A user review on the Play Store described the pop-up ads as “predictable”, which is nice! - it’s good knowing exactly when you’re going to be taken advantage of, in return for a mostly nonfunctional service.
One of the two apps with the same name on the list, Junk Cleaner apparently aims to be as unobstructive as possible, immediately removing itself from the app list and becoming accessible exclusively through a persistent notification (convenient!) A feature sorely missed, however, is the decimal comma, a.k.a. the difference between 434 MB and 4.34 MB of deleted data – though this is surely just an oversight to be fixed in a future update. We can’t give it enough praise, so we’ll let its store page description do the talking: “Most of Android users suffered from the phone lagging and insufficient memory when they using their phone, if you are looking for a cleaner for your phone, Junk Cleaner will be your best choice. Free to try it now!”
An app so secure, it becomes inaccessible after just one use – truly revolutionary. We actually had to install it twice, as the first time it somehow blocked access to the Play Store, while also deleting almost all traces of itself. What was left, though, were tha app's background services, which pinged the servers of QQ, a popular Chinese chat service, once every two seconds. Many users also report being bombarded with apps after installing the app, though we did not share that experience. A fun quirk of the app is just how hard it is to remove, since it asks for permissions which can effectively disable uninstalling the app, unless one knows exactly where to look.
Junk Cleaner / Junk Cleaner Lite
In the words of the developer: “Junk cleaner, professional optimize your phone performance. Make your device running like new again.” We actually started with the Lite version of the app, but quickly found ourselves wanting more functionality, of which we got plenty – though most of it consisted of, you guessed it, ads. Just like Clean Master, here we got a few problematic ad sources, including one previously linked to the distribution of Android malware, along with a ton of pop-ups, and a lock screen overlay (filled with ads, obviously). Interestingly enough, this app actually reported less RAM usage than there really was, which seems counterproductive in an app designed to lie about cleaning memory.