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How to stay safe on the Google Play Store

Searching for applications for your computer online can be like navigating a minefield. There are tons of threats out there from malware to scam artists that you need to tip-toe around. It can be just as hard to stay safe on an app store like the Google Play Store. That’s right! There are also threats on the Google Play Store.

These threats are, unfortunately, hard to spot sometimes. Malicious actors go through a great deal of trouble making their dangerous apps look innocuous. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t spot them. With the proper knowledge and preparation, you’ll be able to protect yourself while searching for your next favorite app on the Play Store.

What kind of threats are out there?

Let’s start by talking about what kind of threats are out there. Again, there are more threats out there than you think. While most of the apps you’re being fed by the algorithm are safe, there’s always the chance that you’ll find one that isn’t. What are some of the threats looming on the Play Store?


Yes, your phone can be infected with malware. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “malware”, most people use the term “virus” to refer to any form of malicious software. A virus is actually a category of malware. The main takeaway should be this: malware is bad.

When you download a bad app, there’s the chance that you’ll also download a bit of software that can get into your system and do all sorts of unwanted actions. It could gain access to sensitive information, cause systems to misbehave, run ads in the background, cause your system to slow down, and more.


Scams exist in all shapes and forms, so it should come as no surprise that there are scams targeting smartphone users. These are apps that ask for money and promise a large payout or reward for you. Obviously, they don’t deliver. The only thing they payout is sadness.

There are also scams that fool you into watching a torrent of ads to complete different tasks. While you’re not actually paying money, you’re still earning a ton of money for the app developer to pocket and not redistribute.

Imposter apps

Depending on the app, there might not be any devastating consequences, but there’s always that chance that they’re malicious. Imposter apps are disguised to look exactly like another app and fool the user into downloading them. They could have a similar name to a popular app or game and sport a similar logo.

For instance, if you type in “Instagram” and you get results named “Instantgram” or “Instgram”, then those would be imposter apps. Their names are extremely similar to the real deal, and you can miss it if you’re not paying attention.

Apps like these could be harmless in that the developer is cheating to get more people to use their app. However, there’s also the chance that the app could come with malware. Also, there are apps that are just to funnel ads your way. What some apps will do is load a bunch of ads at the very start of the app. By the time you notice that something is up, you’ve already watched several ads.

Sure, a few ads from you isn’t all that much, but millions of people will download that app thinking that it’s the real Instagram.

How to stay safe on the Google Play Store

Now, that’s enough fearmongering. You shouldn’t take this as a sign to stop downloading apps. By all means, download apps, but you’ll want to do so safely. It’s daunting to think about all of the wolves in sheep’s clothing, but we’ll go over some tips to keep in mind when downloading a new app.

Check the name and icon

Safety starts from the moment you lay eyes on the app. Read the app’s name carefully and check the icon. As stated before, imposter apps use extremely similar names and icons to make you think that you’re downloading something completely different.

When you search for an app, make sure that you read the name so that it’s correct. This also goes for the icon. Make sure that it’s not a slightly altered version of the real app’s icon.

The next thing you want to do is check out the company name. Tap on the link that will take you to the company’s page. Look at the other apps that the company produced. If you see that a Snapchat app is made by a company called “Angry Hamster inc”, then that’s a red flag.

Another thing you’ll want to do is check out the number of downloads. If you see an app posing as Twitter, and it has 200,000 downloads, then something might be up

Read the reviews

Next, take a look at the app’s reviews. People use the reviews to talk about what they love and hate about the app. If there’s something fishy about the app, you can bet to hear about it en masse.

When you’re looking through the reviews, look for the lowest reviews because shady app developers will flood the Play Store with false positive reviews. Dive through the reviews and look for the ones that point to any weirdness in the app. If the app hits you with a ton of ads, causes your phone to slow down, or anything else unwanted, you’ll see it in those one-star and two-star reviews.

Review the permissions that the app needs

Now, most apps on the Play Store need certain permissions in order to function properly. Map apps need access to your location, media player apps need access to your files, gallery apps need access to your photos, etc. That’s just the way of the world. However, you need to be aware of what permissions these apps need and whether or not they should access them.

If you download a simple card game, should it be asking for permission to access your contacts? If you download a task manager, should it be asking to access your location?

When you give an app access to something on your phone, you could be placing sensitive information in the hands of the developers. We’re talking about your email address, home address, pictures of you and your family, your geographic location, and more. This is information that you do not want getting into the wrong hands.

When you’re on an app’s Play Store page, tap on the About this app page and scroll down to the App permissions section. There, it will show you all of the permissions that the app will need. Read them carefully.

Research the app online

This might be the last line of defense, but you can also do a quick internet search on the app. If you’re talking about a smaller app on the market, you most likely won’t find anything on it, but apps that have gained more traction will more than likely turn up results.

There are entire websites dedicated to reviewing and warning people about malicious apps. Read the reviews and see whether you should avoid that app. It seems a bit excessive, but it’s necessary.

An ounce of caution…

When you’re on the Google Play Store, Apple App Store, Amazon App Store, or any other store, you need to be careful about what you download. All it takes is one download to turn your world upside down. With these tips, you should be able to more safely hunt down apps.


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