Google’s Play Store offers developers a faster, more open experience than Apple’s version, which comes with lengthy reviews and seemingly random rejections. The Play Store has evolved over the years, and today is much more secure than it was back when we knew it as the Android Market. Google reports that it took down more than 700,000 “bad” apps in 2017, and it did so faster than ever before.
When a developer uploads an app to Google, it goes through a number of automated systems that look for malicious activity. Anything questionable is routed to a human reviewer. In most cases, apps are available on the store in a matter of hours. In the past, this has made it more likely bad actors could sneak malicious content into the Play Store, but Google’s been working to reduce the likelihood that users will ever encounter those apps.
The 700,000 apps removed from the Play Store in 2017 marks a 70 percent increase over 2016. These aren’t all malware or spyware, though. Most of them are simply “bad” apps because they violate Google’s increasingly strict developer guidelines that dictate how apps can run on your phone, display ads, and so on.
Some of those apps are merely old listings that haven’t been updated and ran afoul of new rules, but others were newly uploaded packages that attempted to evade detection while breaking the rules. A substantial portion of the bad apps were copycats impersonating popular apps in hopes of getting downloads. They often use confusable unicode characters to try and evade detection, but Google’s on to that. Then there are the inappropriate apps that contain content not permitted in the Play Store — porn, gore, hate speech, and so on are all banned from Google’s platform. Google used an improved machine learning model to detect these apps and bounce them before they went live.
Online criminals will never stop trying to sneak actual malware into the Play Store. Apps that try to steal data or send fraudulent premium SMS messages occasionally evade detection, but Google says the improved Play Protect model lowered the number of malware installs by a factor of ten compared to 2016.
Google notes that it removed problem apps faster than it had in past years. Across all categories, 99 percent of bad apps were removed from the Play Store before getting even a single download. Google also has advanced detection networks that can identify banned developers when they try to create new accounts, so hopefully the numbers look even better next year.
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