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Google flexes security muscle, says it stopped 2.28 million rogue apps from hitting Play Store in 2023

In a nutshell: If you’re an Android user, Google wants you to know that it’s got your back when it comes to sketchy apps and shady developers trying to pull a fast one on the Play Store. In its annual transparency report released today, the tech giant laid out all the measures it took last year to safeguard users and responsible developers alike.

Google says the push to keep the Play Store a clean place came from its SAFE principles – Safeguard users, Advocate for developer protection, Foster responsible innovation, and Evolve platform defenses. Putting those principles into practice in 2023 involved a lot of security updates, policy changes, and advanced screening with machine learning.

The stats are pretty impressive. The search giant prevented 2.28 million policy-violating apps from making it onto the Play Store. It identified over 333,000 bad actor accounts associated with malware, fraud rings, and other nastiness, giving them the boot. Almost 200,000 other app submissions were rejected or had to make changes to properly handle sensitive permissions like location tracking.

But Google didn’t just crack down on individual apps. The company notes that it took industry-wide initiatives to promote app security best practices. Google partnered with Microsoft and Meta in the restructured App Defense Alliance to support the adoption of mobile app security guidelines across the ecosystem.

Moreover, Play Store listings for VPN apps now highlight which ones underwent independent security audits through the alliance. It’s a welcome change considering many of such apps have been flagged as security nightmares by researchers in the past.

Under the hood, Google gave Play Protect – the security software that scans Android devices – an upgrade to do real-time code analysis on apps. This, the company says, has detected over 5 million malicious apps trying to sneak onto Android devices from outside the Play Store so far.

On the policy front, Google instituted new rules around generative AI apps, disruptive ads, and expanded privacy protections last year. It’s raising the bar for new developer accounts with stricter verification requirements and pre-launch testing. Apps that create user accounts now have to build in data-deletion tools that are accessible online.

The search giant is also taking a tougher stance on apps that don’t stay up-to-date with the latest Android APIs and security enhancements. Around 1.5 million outdated apps are no longer available on the Play Store for users running current Android versions.

Looking ahead to 2024, Google plans to remove apps that aren’t transparent about how they handle user data and privacy. It also just filed a federal lawsuit against two crypto scammers who pushed fraudulent investment apps on the Play Store, signaling it’s willing to take legal action.

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