Google Is Waging War on Apps That Attack, Infiltrate and Steal From Your Phone

Android’s open platform means its must police its app store very carefully.

Late last month, Google made sweeping changes to its policies for developers on Play, the official store for apps that run on Android, Google’s smartphone operating system. The changes, which among other things affect how ads are displayed and permissions sought, are meant to make Android safer so users can download and use apps with confidence. Developers have until later this month to make the changes. Those who run afoul of the new rules after the deadline will find their apps deleted.

If the past few months are any indication, the Play store will experience a major purge. Google does not disclose or publicly comment on how many apps it removes from its store every month. But Priori Data, an app market research firm based in Berlin, estimates that in the month to August 9, more than 36,000 apps were removed from Google Play. That may not sound significant compared to the roughly 950,000 apps in the store. But in the same period, the number of apps available on Play only increased by 35,000. That means that one app was removed for every two new apps that came to the Play store.  According to Zscaler, a security firm, one in every five apps available on Google Play has some sort of problem with it.

The numbers have been fairly consistent. As per Priori’s data, it is not uncommon for between 25,000 and 35,000 apps to be removed in any given month. (We reviewed Priori’s data from December to July; March and April numbers for Google Play were unavailable.)

Google makes a big deal about being an open marketplace. Unlike Apple, it does not vet apps before they become available in its store. The idea is to make Android a more welcoming platform, one that is not subject to the whims of the store owner. The problem is that it also makes Android much more vulnerable to attacks. Early in 2012, Google unveiled Bouncer, an automatic scanner that checks for malware, spyware and trojans when apps are submitted to Google Play. That catches some of the more obviously undesirable apps—the ones with bad code. But it misses apps that infringe on copyright, contain what Google considers undesirable content (hate speech, sexually explicit material, gambling and so on), and ones that more skillfully hide their malicious nature. Even so, as the number of apps seeking approval goes up, the speed at which Google allows them onto its marketplace is going down. Until last year, apps went live on Play within five minutes of submission. It now takes several hours, according to one developer.

Read more at Quartz

NEXT STORY The Triumph of the Tablet