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Today, Google Maps is one of the must-have apps for every smartphone owner. Even with iPhone having a pre-installed alternative from Apple, Google is still by far, the preferred app for maps and navigation. Google has been adding to its Maps apps a bunch of great features to turn it int a more exciting experience and while it is running towards perfection, there are a few concerns to it.

Early this month, Google took out 85 malicious apps from its Play Store. The apps were in the disguise of remote control and gaming simulator apps with over 9 million downloads from the Google app store. Not long after, another set of apps were spotted to be in violation of Google Play Store guidelines.

The intended benefits and paybacks of modern-day app stores are to make it easy for companies to evaluate the credibility of software before downloading it. Google Play, however, has over 2.1 million apps and in such a multitude, it is possible for things to slip through unnoticed. Thus, explaining why about 19 different navigation apps were discovered to be knock-offs.

Lukas Stefano, an ESET malware researcher, was the first to make the discovery. The 19 apps that Lukas tested, were navigation apps having over one million installs each which makes a combined install base of over 50 million. Claims perpetuate that the apps help its users add on tools such as a speedometer and a compass or map their routes. However, for each of these apps to actually perform the real work, they would eventually rely on Google Maps or its related API.

The apps discovered were inclusive of; GPS Route Finder, Maps GPS Navigation, and GPS Live Street. What the apps technically do, is use Google Maps native platform to dupe Android users and solicit money from them. They also do not give its users any of their additional services but instead, use Google Maps to display ads to their users.

As if that is not enough, some of these apps go ahead and source permission to get access to the user’s messages, contacts, and call details. According to Lukas Stefano, the apps come in the form of full-featured navigation apps. Sadly, all they can do is create useless layers between the user and the Google Maps app. Simply put, once the user downloads the app and taps on to the drive, they will open Google Maps to help them out. They will also bombard the user’s smartphone screen with ads and then ask the user for a small amount to help get rid of the ads.

Ultimately, the purpose then seems to be one of soliciting money from the users by duping them to download the apps and later on forcing them to pay an amount to have the same as they caused to be removed. On an alarming note though is that despite these apps having improper app icons, they have over 50 million times download from the Play Store. It was about a month ago that Lukas informed Google of the fraudulent activities of the fake GPS apps, but Google is yet to take any substantial action on his report.

Usually, to make the most out of Google Maps you have to agree to continuous tracking, and with that, there is so much Google can collect from its users. It is, however, a necessary evil if you intend on enjoying all the app is about and even pay for the app with your data. Google Maps has more than a billion users just on Android alone, and thus one reason why Google is said to be ruining Maps with the only alternative is going for a different navigation app.

The even more disturbing feature coming with Google Maps is the bunch of built-in ads that will pop up in your search results. Several users have indicated they find the ads in Maps very infuriating especially with the fact that they cannot turn it off and a nuisance when attempting to search for what they want. Other business names in providing navigation directions are as well annoyed with Google for the same case, that it is messing up with its optimal function.

The main difference between the real Google Maps and the fake GPS apps is the redesigned home screen and sometimes a stolen or tweaked UI that are purposed for serving the ads while also disguising the fact that the app was running off of Google’s data the whole time.

Of even greater concern, is that some of these Google Maps knock-offs will ask for permission to access the phone’s dialer and other critical services that a typical map app would not require. It would possibly pose a potential security risk for the user. The most bothering aspect of this whole fiasco is that there are one-star reviews that try to alert other users of these fake Google Map apps and that they are not legit, but still, many people have maintained an overall rating of above four stars. Thankfully though, many of these apps violate Google Maps’ terms of use which generally implies that they will not be allowed to develop substitutes or redistribute for Google Maps Core Services.

In the long run, what every person can take away from this, is that not many companies can accumulate highly detailed mapping information except companies such as Google, Here, Apple, and a few others. Thus, it is always best to go straight to the source company and use one of their big map apps instead. Not unless you are the kind of user that prefers the distinctive features of a specific app such as the crowdsourced alerts people get in Waze. Though practically, Waze is still owned by Google and also sources general location information from Google Maps.

In the case that you see ads that are messing with your Google Maps experience, you could report the apps to Google with the hope that things will be fixed. Or simply, as we had put it, go straight for the big apps.