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Google adds protection in its fight against bad apps

By Ryan Morris-Reade
Fri 23 Apr 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Google has introduced a range of new policies to help protect users and guard against bad apps and developers, as it prioritises providing a safe experience to Google Play users and developers.

In 2020, Google Play Protect scanned more than 100B installed apps each day for malware across billions of devices.

Google says because Android users come to Google Play to find helpful and reliable apps, it released new policies and new developer support to encourage information quality and reduce the risk of user harm from misinformation. 

These include:

  • COVID-19 apps requirements
    Google introduced specific requirements for COVID-19 apps. Under these requirements, apps related to sensitive use cases, such as those providing testing information, must be endorsed by either official governmental entities or healthcare organisations and should meet a high standard for user data privacy.
  • News policy
    To promote transparency in news publishing, it now has minimum requirements apps must meet in order for developers to declare their app as a “News” app on Google Play. Google says the guidelines help promote user transparency, and developer accountability, by providing users with relevant information.
  • Election support
    New teams and processes across Google Play focus on elections providing additional support and adapting to the changing landscape. This includes support for government agencies, trained app reviewers, and a safety team to address election threats and abuse.

“Our core efforts around identifying and mitigating bad apps and developers continue to evolve to address new adversarial behaviours and forms of abuse,” says Google Play’s director of product management trust & safety, Krish Vitaldevara.

“Our machine-learning detection capabilities and enhanced app review processes prevented over 962 thousand policy-violating app submissions from getting published to Google Play. We also banned 119 thousand malicious and spammy developer accounts,” he says.

“Additionally, we significantly increased our focus on SDK enforcement, as we've found these violations have an outsized impact on security and user data privacy.”

Last year Google said it continued to reduce developer access to sensitive permissions. In February, it announced a new background location policy to ensure apps requesting this permission would require the data in order to provide clear user benefit. 

It claims that as a result of the new policy, developers now have to demonstrate that benefit and tell users about it or face possible removal from Google Play. 

“We've begun enforcement on apps not meeting new policy guidelines and will provide an update on the usage of this permission in a future blog post,” says Vitaldevara.

“We've also continued to invest in protecting kids and helping parents find great content. In 2020 we launched a new kids tab filled with “Teacher approved” apps. 

“To evaluate apps, we teamed up with academic experts and teachers across the country, including our lead advisors, Joe Blatt, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Dr. Sandra Calvert, Georgetown University,” he says.

“As we continue to invest in protecting people from apps with harmful content, malicious behaviours, or threats to user privacy, we are also equally motivated to provide trusted experiences to Google Play developers.”

An example of this Vitaldevara adds is an improved process for providing relevant information about enforcement actions we’ve taken, resulting in a significant reduction in appeals and increased developer satisfaction. 
 

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