Over 700,000 rogue apps removed from Google Play Store in 2017
Andrew Ahn, the Product Manager for the Play Store at Google, posted an update on the Android Developers blog on how Google is protecting the security and privacy of billions of users around the world. This is a timely blog post since there were a number of high profile malware and security incidents involving Android in 2017.
As far as raw numbers are concerned, Google took down 700,000 rogue apps in 2017, an increase of 70 percent over 2016’s approximate 400,000. Ahn was proud to point out that in addition to removing more apps, they were able to identify and remove them more quickly too. Machine learning enabled Google to eliminate 99 percent of apps with abusive content before anyone was able to download them. 'Abusive content' also includes inappropriate content and impersonation, in addition to standard malware. Furthermore, new detection models helped to identify repeat offenders, resulting in the removal of 100,000 developer accounts as well as using the data collected to help make it more difficult for these developers to re-join.
Copycat apps made up one of the largest groups with more than 250,000 of the removed apps falling into this category. A Copycat app is one that tries to impersonate a famous app by using icons that are the same or similar, and by creating the name to be as close as possible to the original with a slight difference or using Unicode characters that look similar. There were tens of thousands of apps which fell into the inappropriate content category that includes hate speech, pornography, and illegal activities. Finally, potentially harmful applications (malware) only made up one of the smaller groups of blocked or removed software, but there was a focus on these due to their damaging nature, and the user install rate has been reduced by ten times compared to 2016.
“Google Play is committed to providing a safe experience for billions of Android users to find and discover such apps. Over the years, this commitment has made Google Play a more trusted and safer place. Last year we've more than halved the probability of a user installing a bad app, protecting people and their devices from harm's way, and making Google Play a more challenging place for those who seek to abuse the app ecosystem for their own gain.”
It is encouraging to see these security improvements made in the Google Play Store. Historically Android has held the unenvious reputation as the least secure mobile operating system when compared to current and past competition from iOS, Windows Phone, and BlackberryOS. Part of this comes down to the more open nature of the platform and app store, including the ability to quickly enable features like installing apps from unknown sources. Hopefully, over time the changes made in the Play Store can lift Android's security reputation to be on par with — or better than — the alternatives.