Are Instant Apps a Virus?

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The concept behind Google Play Instant Apps is to allow users to try out apps without the need to install them. Android apps with this feature have a “Try Now” button alongside the traditional “Install” button on Google Play. When users click “Try Now,” a virtual application is installed, allowing them to experience the app and decide if they want to install the full version. This feature is especially useful for large app files, as users can get a sneak preview and determine if the download is worth their time. The Play Store runs this service using Google Play Services for Instant Apps.

Instant Apps
(Image source: Google Play Store)

Unfortunately, while Google’s intention was noble, the Instant Apps feature quickly encountered challenges. Here are some of the issues associated with Instant Apps:

Instant Apps Downloaded Without Permission

One of the main concerns is that on some Android versions, users have experienced apps downloading themselves without permission, leading to speculation about instant apps being viruses. There have been numerous complaints online from Android users who have witnessed Google Play Services for Instant Apps installing itself and downloading instant apps without permission. However, instant apps are not viruses. The information provided in the opening paragraph clearly demonstrates that instant apps are not malicious. Nonetheless, given this behavior on certain Android versions and devices, it’s understandable why users might mistake Instant Apps for an Android virus.

Security Vulnerability

Instant apps have proven to be a security nightmare. Over time, researchers have discovered a significant security vulnerability that can be exploited to steal information. The vulnerability was first introduced in Android 4 (Kit Kat) in 2013 but wasn’t easy to exploit until the introduction of instant apps in 2016. Hackers could use the Android WebView component to steal personal information, such as cookies and authorization tokens. Criminals created malicious instant apps that hijacked the browser, allowing them to read WebView contents. This vulnerability persisted for four years and was only patched in January 2019.

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Intrusive Advertisements

Some Android devices, such as Huawei, Tecno, and Infinix, come with modified Android versions that include a lot of bloatware. On these devices, instant apps allow users to play games without installation. However, these games often come with non-gaming ads that continuously pop up on the screen.

How to Stop Instant Apps from Downloading

To address the concern of instant apps downloading automatically, there are several ways to disable this feature.

Use the Google Play App

The first method is to open the Google Play App, go to Settings > Google Play Instant, and toggle the switch to turn off the auto-download setting.

Rooted Devices

The second method is more technical and is for rooted devices. Without going into too much detail, this method involves blocking write access to the cache folder. Android uses this folder to download system applications, such as Google Play Services for Instant Apps. This method permanently stops instant apps from downloading automatically.

How to Uninstall Instant Apps

Stubborn instant apps are usually caused by custom Android versions where the instant app file isn’t deleted as intended. If you’re experiencing intrusive ads or see icons on your home screen indicating favorite apps, you likely have a modified Android version. Here are a few options to uninstall instant apps from your mobile device in such cases.

Use the Application Manager

There are different ways to do this depending on your Android version. Go to Settings and navigate to the app list. Tap on Force Stop, then select Storage and clear both the Data and Cache.

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Restart the Device in Safe Mode

If using the application manager doesn’t work, restart the device in safe mode. Check your device’s user manual to learn how to start it in safe mode. Once in safe mode, you can uninstall third-party apps that may be causing issues.

Factory Reset

If your phone was infected with malware, a factory reset may be necessary. This erases all applications and data on the device. Be sure to back up your phone before performing a factory reset.

Change Your Device or Firmware

If a factory reset doesn’t solve the problem, you may need to replace your device. Resetting a device that uses a modified Android version rarely fixes the problem because the issue is hard-wired into the firmware. Another alternative is to replace the firmware by searching online for the original Android firmware for your device.

Tips to Avoid Instant Apps

While instant apps were designed to provide users with a way to try apps before installing them, many users have had mixed experiences with them. If you prefer not to have the option for instant apps, follow these tips:

  • Disable the feature in the Google Play App: This ensures that instant apps never download on your phone unless you explicitly click on a web link.
  • Avoid non-Store apps: Not all non-Store apps are shady, but most apps with suspicious features are installed through APK files.
  • Buy your phone from a reputable brand: Avoid manufacturers that use modified Android versions. Stick to original Android firmware, and you won’t have to deal with self-installing apps and bloatware.

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