These hugely popular Android antivirus apps might be more dangerous than useful

With over a million potentially malicious apps blocked from entering Google’s Play Store last year alone, you probably wouldn’t expect to hear about dozens more wreaking havoc on the security of millions of Android users around the world practically every few weeks or so.

Unfortunately, it’s been proven time and time again over the years that you simply cannot rely (solely) on Google to keep you protected from increasingly sophisticated threats and ever-improving bad actors.

In theory, that’s where so-called antivirus, “virus cleaner”, or security-focused apps should come in, but at least based on one extensive new study, it might not always be a good idea to trust those either. And believe it or not, we’re talking about the best of the best in the category this time around rather than some obscure title from a no-name developer with no more than a few thousand downloads under its belt.

Almost all popular antivirus apps are tracking you

While data collection, let’s be honest, is a common, generally acceptable, and sometimes necessary practice for mobile apps of (almost) all types, we can probably agree the most important thing in these nearly inevitable cases is a dev’s sincerity.

When you have apps specifically advertised as focusing on protecting user privacy that can be easily found to track the same users for undisclosed and thus potentially shady purposes, it’s hard not to consider your trust violated for good.

Of the 40 most downloaded cleaning and antivirus apps in Google Play inspected by Cybernews security experts, just two (!!!) were deemed clean themselves of obvious data privacy threats, with another two escaping this analysis by using a method called obfuscation, which is clearly not a good sign.

Even “Super Antivirus – Clean Virus” and “VG Enterprise Web SDK”, which are the two tracker-free apps on today’s list, failed to impress when it came to evaluating their overall security protection skills, although it is worth pointing out that it’s unclear exactly how this assessment was conducted.

The amount and type of data tracked by each of the 36 apps found guilty of this questionable practice are also not mentioned or detailed in any way, but making matters worse, six of those same apps apparently contain links to “potentially malicious domains” as well.

Should you delete them all?

While the answer to that question may seem simple, you have to keep in mind that these are (in theory) some of the best free Android security apps on the market today, and there’s obviously no guarantee lesser-known alternatives will refrain from tracking you.

An easy solution to this conundrum would be to turn your back on mobile antiviruses altogether, in which case you’ll be left all alone trying to evade the daily dangers of the Android life

That’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds if you exercise good judgment with every single app installation, including but not limited to carefully reading user reviews, paying attention to all the relevant research out there, and well, keeping an eye on Phone Arena from time to time.

Having said all that, here are the apps found to both track their users and contain “likely” malicious links:
  • Dr. Capsule Antivirus, Cleaner
  • GO Security – AntiVirus, AppLock, Booster
  • Virus Hunter 2021 Virus Scanner and Phone Cleaner
  • AVC Antivirus & Virus Cleaner
  • Fancy Booster – Cleaner, Antivirus & Speed Up
  • Phone Junk – Clean Master

And here is the painfully long list including all the massively popular Android antivirus apps discovered to “only” track your data, ordered by their tracker count and thus apparent degree of danger (emphasis on apparent):

  • Nova Security – Virus Cleaner
  • Antivirus, Virus Cleaner, Booster – Fancy Security
  • Fancy Battery – Battery Saver, Booster, Cleaner
  • Fancy Cleaner – Boost, CleanerSmart Security
  • Smart Security
  • Keep Clean Cleaner, Antivirus
  • Safe Security – Antivirus, Booster, Phone Cleaner
  • APUS Security Antivirus Master
  • Antivirus One – Virus Cleaner
  • FileMaster Manage&Power Clean
  • Memory cleaner Speed booster and junk removal
  • One Booster Antivirus and Cleaner
  • Phone Security – Antivirus, Cleaner, Booster
  • PoMelo File Explorer & Cleaner
  • One Security Antivirus, Clean
  • Phone Cleaner – Virus cleaner
  • Powerful Phone Cleaner – Cleaner & Booster
  • Virus Remover – security apps, booster, cooler
  • Smart Cleaner
  • Antivirus – Cleaner + VPN
  • CPU Cooler – Antivirus, Clean
  • Phone Cleaner, Booster, Master
  • SHAREit Lite – Share and File Transfer, File Manage
  • Super Clean – Master of Cleaner
  • Smart Clean – Booster, Cleaner
  • Antivirus And Virus Cleaner Lock
  • Clean Guard Phone Cleaner
  • JioSecurity Mobile Security & Antivirus
  • Antivirus – Virus Cleaner
  • Security Antivirus – Max Cleaner

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