VSUN Android Smartphone Ships with Adware

A year ago I had enough with my Windows Phone for a multitude of reasons that has since made it a lost cause. Naturally I decided to switch back to Android, a decision that prompted getting a new device altogether.

A bit of window shopping online unearthed what I thought was a good match for me. It was a budget android phone with 4G and a display below 5" - the only two requirements I had then. The device was by a little known Chinese manufacturer by the name of VSUN.

The price on offer was quite affordable, perhaps too affordable it would be deemed a throwaway since no other 4G device with similar specs was in this price range (about $40). A good bargain I concluded it was and quickly got hold of one before the last of them found an eager owner.



Adware Packaged as Software Update App

After almost a year of use, a month ago I noticed a peculiar thing. A certain app was pushing ads in my notification drawer and lock screen. This came as huge surprise for me bearing in mind I always have background data restricted not to mention the bulk of my apps don't have ads.

Long pressing on the ad revealed that the app in question was Software Update (package name: com.rock.gota). This is a system app that I thought up until this time was for fetching and installing OTA updates. Preposterous I know for budget android phone.
software update adware
Software Update Adware

The app had lived up to this sentiment as it never installed let alone found any updates yet here it was serving ads from RevContent - a popular advertisement network that specializes in content recommendation ads.

No question that the app is adware however I wonder what took it this long to start pushing the ads. 


Removing the Software Update Adware

Unfortunately, since the adware is a System App options on removing it are very limited. One cannot uninstall the app and likewise VSUN made sure we cannot disable the app.

That leaves us with the option of rooting the device - a venture I long shelved owing to the fact that VSUN is not exactly a popular brand meaning it comes with limited support in the way of custom roms. Most one-click root apps (including the popular Chinese ones) have also failed to root it.

Consequently, I've been forced to FORCE STOP the app every time I get the hint it's running (I rely on Developer Option's Show CPU Usage overlay for that). I'm afraid that's the only way until I can either root the device or dispose it off.


Be Wary of Adware and Spyware in Budget Android Phones

Personal user data is a powerful resource that can be leveraged for better profits or influence, be it by companies or politicians. Chinese companies seem to have the worst track record in this matter; a worrying trend considering a lot of electronic gadgets, in particular smartphones and tablets are manufactured there.

Consumers in Europe and N.America are largely protected by high quality standards for consumer products and data privacy laws which to an extent shields them from this kind of pilferage. In essence, the government steps in to protect its citizens since the average consumer doesn't know better when it comes to such "complex" matters.

Furthermore, companies wouldn't risk losing highly profitable markets such as these on account of collecting data. It defeats the purpose as they won't be able to leverage such data for better future sales should they get caught in the act.

That leaves us with low income countries that become essentially the target market or rather the dumping ground for these budget android phones. Quality standards laws in such countries are either shaky or decent enough but not well enforced. Data privacy is on the other hand an afterthought for there are better concerns such as setting up infrastructure to facilitate data access.

A huge appetite for loans from the generous Chinese government further ensures that goods from China, often cheap and substandard, get an easy pass.

I know all this too well as my home country of Kenya falls squarely under this category. Barring the knock-offs that still somehow get entry into the country, the markets are otherwise awash with genuine smartphones from little known Chinese brands.

The growing preference for online retail stores as opposed to physical electronic stores ensures such small players get visibility to compete with established brands at an almost level playing field.

And while most people prefer having smartphones from a big brand name, for such a name not only presupposes quality but also confers status, the added cost that is seemingly charged for a mere name will often push consumers to these lesser known brands.

Such brands will compensate for their unpopularity by selling phones with similar if not slightly superior specs (usually a bigger battery or display size) at lower price ranges.

Price aside, the average consumer is more than likely to conflate a bigger display size with better hardware - a relationship that small brands exploit with astounding results. All this coupled with well-timed discounted offers ensure many consumers gladly choose the likes of VSUN or CUBOT over the costlier Samsungs and Huaweis.

Little do consumers realize that this inexpensiveness is paid with data harvesting and revenue making in the form of ads.

Last year a long list of such small brands were implicated in a report that revealed their android smartphones shipped with a spyware app called Adups. Unsurprisingly, VSUN was one of these 40 manufacturers in this report where Blu was the focus of the attention.

The extra amount charged for better known brands would therefore seem justified if only to safeguard oneself from this blatant disregard of one's privacy. Still, I fear that consumers in low income countries are preoccupied with more pressing needs to care for their data privacy let alone protest against smartphones they see as a refuge from the dominance of pricier established brands.


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