Google to re­move mil­lions of Play Store apps

The crack­down tar­gets apps with ques­tion­able pri­vacy poli­cies. Michael Si­mon re­ports

Tech Advisor - - News: Analysis -

Take a look at the dig­i­tal shelves of the Google Play Store and you’re likely to come across a bevy of so-called zom­bie apps. These typ­i­cally take the form of a knock-off of a pop­u­lar game or a sloppy util­ity that doesn’t quite match its de­scrip­tion, and they strate­gi­cally turn up along­side le­git­i­mate apps, which makes them hard to spot if you’re not do­ing a foren­sic anal­y­sis of re­views while you shop.

Now it looks like some­thing is fi­nally be­ing done about them. In a let­ter un­cov­ered by The Next Web, Google has be­gun warn­ing some devel­op­ers that one or more of their apps has been flagged for a lack of an ad­e­quate pri­vacy pol­icy, a com­mon prob­lem among these sort of hastily pub­lished and sub­se­quently ig­nored apps.

In the mes­sage, Google re­it­er­ates its pol­icy, which “re­quires devel­op­ers to pro­vide a valid pri­vacy pol­icy when the app re­quests or han­dles sen­si­tive user in­for­ma­tion”. Such per­mis­sions include cam­era, mi­cro­phone, ac­count, con­tacts or phone ac­cess, which re­quires a trans­par­ent dis­clo­sure of how user data is han­dled, ac­cord­ing to Google’s re­quire­ments. It’s un­clear how many let­ters were sent out, but The Next Web es­ti­mates it could affect mil­lions of apps.

This is hardly a new pol­icy for Google, but this push could be the start of a tougher new ap­pli­ca­tion of it. As Google spells out in its developer guide­lines: “If your app col­lects and trans­mits per­sonal or sen­si­tive user data un­re­lated to func­tion­al­ity de­scribed promi­nently in the app’s list­ing on Google Play or in the app in­ter­face, then prior to the col­lec­tion and trans­mis­sion, it must promi­nently high­light how the user data will be used and have the user pro­vide af­fir­ma­tive con­sent for such use.”

While the lack of a proper pri­vacy pol­icy is most cer­tainly an hon­est mis­take for some devel­op­ers, it’s just as likely that many will ig­nore this mes­sage and face what­ever con­se­quences Google has in store for them.

The email urges devel­op­ers to up­date their Play Store list­ings with a valid pri­vacy pol­icy or re­move the of­fend­ing per­mis­sions re­quest from the app. It gave a dead­line of 15 March to com­ply with the re­quest or “ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tion will be taken to limit the vis­i­bil­ity of your app, up to and in­clud­ing re­moval from the Play Store”.

Google isn’t play­ing around. Devel­op­ers and users have long com­plained about the Play Store’s some­what lax rules to­ward let­ting these types of apps in, and this could be a sign that Google is fi­nally work­ing to clean things up. The Play Store is lit­tered with apps of ques­tion­able re­pute, and many of them have flown un­der Google’s radar for too long. This move could neg­a­tively im­pact mil­lions of apps, as well as ben­e­fit hon­est devel­op­ers, but the ef­fect on users will be even greater, en­abling them to seek and find le­git­i­mate apps rather than cheap im­i­ta­tions. And by tack­ling the prob­lem from a pri­vacy stand­point, Google is not only clean­ing up the Play Store, it’s also recom­mit­ting to the se­cu­rity and pro­tec­tion of its users.

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