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Chinese crack down on 'money-sucker' Androids

Stealthy stealing from customers to be stamped on

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The Chinese government is to crack down on "money sucking" mobiles: Android-based handsets that subsidise themselves by stealing from the customer's account.

The crackdown aims to involve network operators, target retailers and ensure that selling handsets featuring pre-installed Trojans is explicitly illegal, according to the Google translation.

The idea is to set up a central unit to manage complaints, though it seems the scam has been going on long enough to build up considerable momentum.

The handsets concerned are sold cheaply, and generally unbranded, though some bear forged logos. Once they go into use the Android-based handsets start quietly sending text messages, or making a silent call or two. The transactions only incur a fee of about around 20 pence a time, in the hope the user will never notice, while the miscreant collects the termination fee or other premium charge.

The amounts are small, but the idea is to collect it over a long period, enabling the handset to be sold very cheaply and thus feeding a virtuous circle that benefits everyone - except the poor sap who thought he was getting a cheap Android handset.

"I think the software industry lacks a better business model, they can only make these knock-off and money-sucking software in order to survive," said Zhao Wei, CEO of Chinese security company Knownsec, according to PC World. "This is fast becoming an industry in itself."

Manufacturers and network operators have a long history of preinstalling applications which they hope will rake in additional cash, much to the annoyance of users. Hiding them from the user is an obvious evolution of that idea, though hopefully a step too far for the bigger brands at least. ®

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