Google highlights how it kept the Play Store safe from misinformation in 2020
While there are many valid complaints about how Google moderates the Play Store, there are also equally valid complaints about how Google doesn’t go far enough. With how many apps have already been published on the app store and how many new apps continue to be published each year, it’s no surprise to see Google tweak its policies each year to keep up with the latest threats. Misinformation was a big concern last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. presidential elections, which is why Google’s latest blog post about combatting bad apps on Google Play focused so much on it.
Google says that in 2020, Google Play Protect scanned over 100 billion installed apps each day for malware. These apps were installed on billions of devices with Google Mobile Services installed and include both totally safe and potentially malicious apps. Google is constantly updating its Play Protect database with new malware entries and potentially harmful apps the company detects.
Next, Google highlighted how they imposed specific requirements for COVID-19 apps submitted to the Play Store last year. The company says they only allowed apps endorsed by either official governmental entities or public health organizations to be published on the Play Store. These apps were required to meet a high standard for user data privacy. Recently, both Apple and Google rejected an update to the UK’s COVID-19 app for failing to follow privacy rules that were previously agreed to.
In the months leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Google added minimum requirements that apps must meet in order for them to be declared as a “News” app on Google Play. These requirements were aimed at preventing low-quality publications from appearing alongside more reputable ones on the Play Store. More broadly, Google created teams and processes that focused on elections specifically. Google provided support for government agencies, trained app reviewers, and added a safety team to address election integrity threats.
Lastly, Google highlights how its enhanced app review process and improved machine learning detection capabilities have blocked many policy-violating apps from making their way onto Google Play. The company says they prevented over 962k policy-violating apps from being published on the Play Store, and they also banned 119k malicious and spammy developer accounts.
In the future, Google will continue to focus on SDK enforcement, as SDK violations have “an outsized impact on security and user data privacy.” The company recently enacted its new background location policy to ensure that only apps that provide a clear user benefit have access to the device’s location at all times. We’ve also seen other recent SDK policy changes, such as to the QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES permission and “All Files Access.” As Google continues to identify threats to users on Google Play, we can expect them to crack down more and more. Hopefully, well-meaning apps and developers won’t get caught up in these policy changes, but we all know by now that these changes always hit a snag.