Some Android GPS apps are just showing ads on top of Google Maps

Apps have been downloaded over 50 million times. Google has failed to removed them, even if they blatantly break their own license.
Written by Catalin Cimpanu, Contributor

A security researcher with antivirus maker ESET has discovered a collection of 19 Android apps that pose as GPS applications but which don't do anything but show ads on top of the legitimate Google Maps service.

"They attract potential users with fake screenshots stolen from legitimate Navigation apps," said Lukas Stefanko, the ESET researcher who found them, who pointed out the 19 apps have been downloaded more than 50 million times.

The apps "pretend to be full featured navigation apps, but all they can do is to create useless layer between User and Google Maps app," the researcher said.

Stefanko says that the apps don't have any actual "navigation technology" and they only "misuse Google Maps."

"Once user clicks on Drive, Navigate, Route, My Location or other option, Google Maps app is opened," Stefanko said.

Furthermore, one of the apps, named "Maps & GPS Navigation: Find your route easily!," even has the gall to request payment to remove ads, which it's showing on top of an already freely available service like Google Maps.

The apps' names and links, as provided by Stefanko to ZDNet, are:

  1. GPS Maps, Route Finder - Navigation, Directions
  2. GPS, Maps & Navigation
  3. GPS Route Finder - GPS, Maps, Navigation & Traffic
  4. GPS, Maps, Navigations - Area Calculator
  5. GPS , Maps, Navigations & Directions
  6. Maps GPS Navigation Route Directions Location Live
  7. Live Earth Map 2019 - Satellite View, Street View
  8. Live Earth Map & Satellite View, GPS Tracking
  9. Traffic Updates: GPS & Navigation
  10. Free-GPS, Maps, Navigation, Directions and Traffic
  11. Voice GPS Driving Directions, Gps Navigation, Maps
  12. GPS Live Street Map and Travel Navigation
  13. GPS Street View, Navigation & Direction Maps
  14. GPS Satellite Maps
  15. Free GPS, Maps, Navigation & Directions
  16. Maps & GPS Navigation: Find your route easily!
  17. Voice GPS Navigation Maps Driving
  18. GPS Navigation & Tracker
  19. GPS Voice Navigation Maps, Speedometer & Compass
Fake GPS Android apps
Image: Lukas Stefanko

Stefanko said he reported all apps to Google's Play Store staff more than a month ago. While the apps aren't malicious, you'd think Google would be interested in removint these apps, as all break Google's own Maps Platform licensing terms, which according to paragraph 3.2.4 (c), prohibits third-parties from using the Maps platform to power a similar service.

Google Maps Platform license

ZDNet has sent a request for comment to Google regarding the issue raised by Stefanko today and will update when we receive a response. The researcher also shared a video of one of the apps in action, wrapping original Google Maps functionality and pestering the user with ads.

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