Google Blocked Over 2.28M Risky Android Apps In 2023 Play Store Cleanup

Google Play Store
The Google Play Store is the primary app repository for most Android users, and that makes it a tantalizing target for internet ne'er-do-wells. Google says it takes Play Store security seriously—so seriously, in fact, that it has whipped up a nifty little acronym to describe its approach. Google says that it leveraged its "SAFE" principles in 2023 to ramp up user protections in the Play Store, and it's got the numbers to prove it.

According to Google, it has used numerous techniques to make the Play Store safer over the past year, including limiting access to abandoned apps, scrubbing malware, highlighting safe apps, and blocking bad developers. All of Google's actions fall under the SAFE policy:
  • (S)afeguard our Users. Help them discover quality apps that they can trust.
  • (A)dvocate for Developer Protection. Build platform safeguards to enable developers to focus on growth.
  • (F)oster Responsible Innovation. Thoughtfully unlock value for all without compromising on user safety.
  • (E)volve Platform Defenses. Stay ahead of emerging threats by evolving our policies, tools and technology.
Google says that it blocked 2.28 million apps from the Play Store that violated its security or privacy rules. As part of this effort, Google began asking developers for more information when setting up their accounts, which made it easier to spot bad actors early. VPN apps in particular have a history of shady behavior, but Google says its efforts to label tested, reliable VPN apps has been a success. Users now see information about the certification policy when searching for a VPN, which will come in handy now that Google has stopped offering one.

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Recent changes to permissions are being enforced widely, too. Google says about 200,000 apps were rejected or updated and resubmitted to ensure they make proper use of sensitive permissions like location and SMS read/write. Google also revealed it has blocked more than 1.5 million apps from appearing on the latest Android phones because they target old system APIs, making them less secure. Not that long ago, pruning that many apps would have been unthinkable, but Android and iOS have stopped competing on who has the most apps—they both have more than enough.

Android doesn't rely entirely on apps in the Play Store, but even apps sideloaded from other sources benefit from Google's more strenuous security practices. Play Protect's real-time code scanning identified more than 5 million malicious sideloaded apps in 2023. The company claims these efforts to keep Android devices secure will continue into 2024 and beyond, and that includes filing RICO lawsuits against the most egregious scammers that target Google Play. It filed one such lawsuit earlier this month.