What were the most common dodgy apps flagged by Google in 2017?

31 Jan 2018

Vouchers for the Google Play Store. Image: Cineberg/Shutterstock

The amount of malicious apps removed by Google increased by 70pc from 2016’s figures.

Google Play’s team of engineers, product managers and other experts had a very busy 2017, according to new details shared by the company.

The staff who monitor the Google Play store removed a staggering amount of apps that violated company policy last year. 700,000 apps were removed, making it a whopping 70pc increase on the amount taken down in 2016.

Google doesn’t share the details of just how many apps are available to download on the Play Store, but Statista estimates there to have been 3.5m in total in December 2017, compared to 2.6m in the same time period the previous year.

Malicious apps were caught rapidly

Andrew Ahn, product manager at Google Play, said that not only were more malicious apps removed, they were also flagged and dealt with at a much faster pace. He wrote: “99pc of apps with abusive contents were identified and rejected before anyone could install them.”

Google Play attributed this improvement to new developments in machine learning and detection models and techniques, which have the ability to identify repeat offenders and abusive developer networks at scale.

100,000 bad developers were pulled from the Play Store in 2017 and the team has also made it tougher for them to create new accounts and publish more dodgy apps.

Copycat apps

One of the most common violations seen by the Google Play team is the copycat app. Famous apps get a lot of search traffic, which means bad actors create impersonating apps to access the platform through methods such as confusable unicode characters, or hiding impersonation app icons. The team took down more than 250,000 impersonating apps in 2017.

Potentially harmful applications (PHAs) are apps that conduct SMS fraud, act as trojans or even phish user information. Google said the number of these applications is quite low, but the risks they present are very high.

These PHA apps are especially tricky, as the developers make a major effort to ensure their bogus apps look as legitimate as possible, conning even the most scrupulous user. Google did say that due to the launch of Google Play Protect in 2017, the PHA install rate dropped 50pc year on year.

Vouchers for the Google Play Store. Image: Cineberg/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects