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How We Fought Bad Apps And Malicious Developers In 2019

Andrew Ahn, Product Manager, Google Play + Android App Safety

Google Play connects users with great digital experiences to help them be more productive and entertained, as well as providing app developers with tools to reach billions of users around the globe. Such a thriving ecosystem can only be achieved and sustained when trust and safety is one of its key foundations. Over the last few years, we’ve made the trust and safety of Google Play a top priority, and have continued our investments and improvements in our abuse detection systems, policies, and teams to fight against bad apps and malicious actors.

In 2019, we continued to strengthen our policies (especially to better protect kids and families), continued to improve our developer approval process, initiated a deeper collaboration with security industry partners through the App Defense Alliance, enhanced our machine learning detection systems analyzing an app’s code, metadata, and user engagement signals for any suspicious content or behaviours, as well as scaling the number and the depth of manual reviews. The combination of these efforts have resulted in a much cleaner Play Store:

  • Google Play released a new policy in 2018 to stop apps from unnecessarily accessing privacy-sensitive SMS and Call Log data. We saw a significant, 98% decrease in apps accessing SMS and Call Log data as developers partnered with us to update their apps and protect users. The remaining 2% is comprised of apps that require SMS and Call Log data to perform their core function.
  • One of the best ways to protect users from bad apps is to keep those apps out of the Play Store in the first place. Our improved vetting mechanisms stopped over 790,000 policy-violating app submissions before they were ever published to the Play Store.
  • Similarly to our SMS and Call Log policy, we also enacted a policy to better protect families in May 2019. After putting this in place, we worked with developers to update or remove tens of thousands of apps, making the Play Store a safer place for everyone.

In addition, we’ve launched a refreshed Google Play Protect experience, our built-in malware protection for Android devices. Google Play Protect scans over 100B apps every day, providing users with information about potential security issues and actions they can take to keep their devices safe and secure. Last year, Google Play Protect also prevented more than 1.9B malware installs from non-Google Play sources.

While we are proud of what we were able to achieve in partnership with our developer community, we know there is more work to be done. Adversarial bad actors will continue to devise new ways to evade our detection systems and put users in harm’s way for their own gains. Our commitment to building the world’s safest and most helpful app platform will continue in 2020, and we will continue to invest in the key app safety areas mentioned in last year’s blog post:

  • Strengthening app safety policies to protect user privacy
  • Faster detection of bad actors and blocking repeat offenders
  • Detecting and removing apps with harmful content and behaviours

Our teams of passionate product managers, engineers, policy experts, and operations leaders will continue to work with the developer community to accelerate the pace of innovation and deliver a safer app store to billions of Android users worldwide.

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