These days, there literally is an app for everything. Whether you want to spend hours playing games, watch a person on the other side of the world stream a local sports game, or organize every aspect of your life down to the minutiae.
The downside to this incredible level of choice is that some apps out there disguise themselves as your friend, when in fact they just want to harm you. Google’s Play Store has frequently received criticism for its less-than-robust approach to filtering unsafe content, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself being tracked, hacked, or conned.
With that in mind, we take a look at ten seemingly-innocent popular apps you shouldn’t install under any circumstances:
What it is: QuickPic used to be a friendly and easy-to-use photo gallery. It was never flashy, but clear communications and frequent updates saw it steadily grow a well-sized user base.
Why it’s bad: It was bought by Cheetah Mobile last year. The company immediately started uploading users’ data to their own servers, as evidenced by one Google Plus user who found a raft of new DNS requests that were attributable to the app.
What you should use instead: There are lots of gallery apps for Android. One alternative that’s been gathering pace recently is Piktures. It claims to be the first gesture-based gallery app and is completely ad-free.
2. ES File Explorer
What it is: Amazingly, it’s probably the most popular file explorer app out there. That’s because it used to be really, really good – five years ago.
Why it’s bad: The free version has been pumped full of bloatware and ad-ware, and it endlessly nags you to download additional apps via non-disable-able notification bar pop-ups.
What you should use instead: There are loads to choose from. If you want an open-source offering turn to OI File Manager; if you’re more concerned with design try out FX File Explorer; or if customization is your thing, you can look to Total Commander.
3. UC Browser
What it is: The most popular Android web browser in China and India. It claims to have a “fast mode” that’ll save you MBs of data usage thanks to compression.
Why it’s bad: Tracking. Users’ search queries are sent without encryption to Yahoo India and Google, a user’s IMSI number, IMEI number, Android ID, and Wi-Fi MAC address are sent without encryption to Umeng (an Alibaba analytics tool), and users’ geolocation data (including longitude/latitude and street name) is transmitted without encryption to AMAP (an Alibaba mapping tool).
What you should use instead: Where to start? Chrome and Firefox are the obvious choices, but some people have worries about privacy concerns there too. A solid all-around privacy protector is Lightning.
4. CLEAN it
What it is: A “junk file cleaner” that’s been installed 10 million times and has 85 percent four- or five-star reviews.
Why it’s bad: Most of what it advertises is detrimental to your phone. For example, clearing the cache will ultimately slow your phone down when it needs to be rebuilt, clearing your RAM only leads to more battery usage, and killing running apps does not save your battery as claimed.
5. Music Player
What it is: As implied, it’s an app that lets you play audio files saved on your device.
Why it’s bad: It has lots of ads, but more worryingly from a user standpoint, it eats through data plans and destroys your battery. People who’ve commented on its Google Play listing report gigabytes of data being consumed, as well as massive battery drain.
6. DU Battery Saver & Fast Charge
What it is: Another “battery-saving” app with an insane number of downloads. It has 7.6 million five-star reviews. Well, sorry, but all of those 7.6 million people are wrong.
Why it’s bad: Fast Charge? An app does not have the ability to change how fast your device charges. This is also the king of adverts – it sponsors almost every ad that you see in any other app and manifests its own ads on your lock screen and notifications bar. Also, all those fancy speed graphs and cool animations? Totally fake.
7. Dolphin Web Browser
What it is: An ad-free, Flash-supporting, HTML 5 video-enabled browser. It’s got 150 million downloads and counting.
Why it’s bad: Like UC Browser, this is a tracking nightmare. Worst of all, it saves your incognito mode website visits in a file on your phone – go and check. Don’t believe the hype; delete it now.
What you should use instead: As mentioned earlier, Chrome, Firefox, and Lightning are your three best options.
8. Photo Collage
What it is: A collage creator that boasts 120 different frames, addable text, and fun backgrounds.
Why it’s bad: Lots and lots of ads, the most annoying of which is the DU Quick Charge ad on the lock screen.
9. Clean Master
What it is: Another insanely popular “speed booster, battery saver, and phone optimizer”. It has 600 million users and 26 million five-star reviews.
Why it’s bad: Firstly, it’s made by Cheetah Mobile. We referred to them earlier – the company is renowned for packing ads, bloatware, and nag screens into their apps. Secondly, it doesn’t do anything useful; RAM-saving apps were valuable once upon a time, but the Android system has developed so much that they are merely a hindrance. Android now has its own native handler for assigning RAM and ensuring it’s all being used in the most optimal way – in many cases, it even deliberately keeps RAM loaded to help performance.
What you should use instead: Honestly, nothing. If you really insist, SD Maid is your friend.
10. Almost Every Anti-Virus App
What it is: There are loads to choose from; most of the well-known desktop anti-viruses now have a smartphone offering.
Why it’s bad: They aren’t bad per se, but they are largely unnecessary – that’s why the biggest names in the industry now market their apps’ anti-virus capabilities as part of a larger security package. There are a couple of caveats, however; if you install software from third-party sources (i.e., not the Google Play Store), or if you have a rooted device. Both these situations can open you up to malware that Google has no control over.
What you should use instead: In this case, it’s not so much what you should install instead, but rather that you need to make sure you’re installing a full-fledged security package from a recognized provider. The apps from companies like Avast and Avira tend to offer additional features such as password-locked apps, remote device wiping, and call blockers.
What Would You Add to This List?
This list of ten apps only scratches the surface. We don’t have exact figures, but we’d hazard a guess that the large majority of apps in the store are in some way “bad news”.
They’re easy to avoid if you’re smart – do your research and only install content from well-known and well-trusted developers. And of course, if you see any suspicious activity after installing an app, delete it and its residual cache immediately.
Now, if you’re interested in apps that we recommend instead, take a look at these that let you personalize your Android home screen: