Google took down over 700,000 Android applications from the official software marketplace last year, 70% more than were removed from the store in 2016.
Additonally, Google improved its ability to identify bad applications earlier, and 99% of apps featuring abusive contents were rejected before reaching users, the company claims.
According to Andrew Ahn, Product Manager, Google Play, this was possible because of new machine learning models and techniques that power Google’s abuse detection abilities (including impersonation, inappropriate content, or malware).
Furthermore, the company focused on identifying repeat offenders and abusive developer networks, which resulted in taking down 100,000 bad developers in 2017. It also “made it more difficult for bad actors to create new accounts and attempt to publish yet another set of bad apps,” Ahn says.
Last year, Google took action against copycat apps, or those programs attempting to deceive users by posing as popular programs. Because famous programs get massive search traffic for particular keywords, the bad actors attempt to take advantage of this by publishing impersonating apps to Google Play Store.
Some of the methods employed include the use of confusable Unicode characters or the hiding of impersonating app icons in a different locale. Google says it took down over a quarter of a million such applications last year.
Applications that contain or promote inappropriate content (pornography, extreme violence, hate, and illegal activities) aren’t accepted in the app store either, and Google removed tens of thousands of such programs from the Android marketplace last year.
Potentially Harmful Applications (PHAs) – malware that performs SMS fraud, acts as Trojans, or phishes user’s information – can harm people or their devices despite going to lengths to appear as legitimate programs. According to Ahn, Google Play Protect helped the Internet giant reduce the annual PHA installs rates on Google Play by 50% last year.
“Despite the new and enhanced detection capabilities that led to a record-high takedowns of bad apps and malicious developers, we know a few still manage to evade and trick our layers of defense. We take these extremely seriously, and will continue to innovate our capabilities to better detect and protect against abusive apps and the malicious actors behind them,” Ahn says.