With several countries in South-Asia banning popular games like PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, many players are looking for ways to play these games regardless of the ban. Some are turning to APKs (Android Packages) which can be downloaded from third-party app stores. However, there are several risks involved with these kinds of downloads.
What’s A Third-Party Application?
Many app development companies or individual developers create applications for Apple’s or Google’s operating systems. These manufacturers also create applications for their own devices. In such a case, it’s called a first-party or “native” app. Each distribution platform includes native applications — the apps Apple built for its iOS operating system and Google built for Android devices. But the vast majority of available applications are third-party apps. A third-party app is a software application made by someone other than the manufacturer of a mobile device or its operating system.
Official App Stores Vs. Third-Party App Stores
Apple’s AppStore and Google’s Play Store are the two biggest official app stores. Users can access either of these (depending on your device) to download apps for your iPhone or Android device. Third-party apps in the official app stores usually follow strict development criteria. The stores also vet the applications for bad stuff like malware and viruses. Third-party app stores may not apply the same level of scrutiny toward the apps they allow to be listed in their app stores. Third-party app stores might offer plenty of safe applications. But there’s also a higher chance they might offer dangerous ones. These apps can infect your mobile device with malicious codes like ransomware and adware. These ads or codes can be introduced to your device into popular apps you might buy through a third-party store.
One of the main risks to avoid while downloading software applications from third-party app stores is that they may infect your smartphone or tablet with malicious software (malware). Such malware could enable someone to take control of your device and might give hackers access to your contacts, passwords, financial accounts and other data stored on the device. The stores might sell popular apps for cheaper prices, which may sound appealing. But that bargain buy can put user privacy at risk. Sensitive information extracted from malicious third-party apps can include phone numbers, device information and email addresses.
While India does have a Personal Data Protection Bill in the works, it’s still waiting on parliamentary approval. In the case of the recent PUBG Mobile ban by the Indian government, it used Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which provides for procedural measures and safeguards against blocking orders. This means it grants the government the power to block public access to any information available online. The statement released by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) highlighted that it decided to block these apps after receiving reports of the apps “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users' data” to servers located outside the country. It also cited recommendations from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs, for blocking the 118 apps.
Are Third-Party App Stores All The Same?
Bad apps are out there, and some of them can be found in third-party app stores. The problem isn't going away. Consider: In 2017, there were 27,000 new mobile malware variants, according to Symantec data. That’s a 54 per cent increase over 2016. However, it is important to keep in mind that not every third-party app store poses the same level of risk. Google Play isn’t available in all countries, for instance. So, Third-party app stores aren’t restricted, meaning, the operating systems’ owners don’t control them. App developers often find that lack of restriction attractive.
So what can users do to stay safe when downloading from third-party app stores? One way to minimize danger from third-party app stores is to avoid them. There are both free and paid antiviruses available which scan incoming downloads for viruses, spyware, and other threats.