Google tells Android developers: we removed 700k bad apps from Play Store in 2017

Google revealed it removed 700,000 bad apps last year to remind developers it wants create to have a safe place for users to install apps. 

Google shared the details on the Android developer blog today to show that its policies, detection techniques and security teams are making progress in the fight against shady developers who abuse its app store’s relationship with two billion Android users. 

According to Google, the 700,000 apps it took down in 2017 was 70 percent more than its takedown total for 2016. Google also removed 100,000 “bad developers” in 2017 thanks to new detection techniques that can spot when repeat offenders try to create new accounts and publish more bad apps after being caught.   

Statista estimates there were 3.5 million apps on Google Play in December, so the 700,000 removed apps are a substantial figure.

These takedowns cover malware as well as apps that violate Google’s policies on inappropriate content, such as apps with pornographic content, and apps that promote extreme violence, hate, and illegal activities. 

Google's new machine learning techniques enabled it to remove 99 percent of apps with abusive content before anyone had installed them. 

Over a third of the 700,000 non-compliant apps it took down last year were copycat apps.

Google has historically had a problem with copycat apps that contain malware. In February  security firm ZScaler found 120 apps with malware that spoofed the look of WhatsApp, Netflix, and Facebook. And in May researchers found SonicSpy spyware hiding in a bogus Telegram app. 

Google notes that these apps often impersonate apps by using “confusing” unicode characters. Reddit users discovered such a case in November where several fake WhatsApp apps on the Play Store were downloaded between a million and five million times. To mimic the real WhatsApp developer ID, the attackers added Unicode encoding for 'no-break space’ at the end of the name.

"Attempting to deceive users by impersonating famous apps is one of the most common violations. Famous titles get a lot of search traffic for particular keywords, so the bad actors try to amass installs leveraging such traffic,” explained Andrew Ahn, Product Manager, Google Play. 

"They do this by trying to sneak in impersonating apps to the Play Store through deceptive methods such as using confusable unicode characters or hiding impersonating app icons in a different locale. In 2017, we took down more than a quarter of a million of impersonating apps.”

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