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Google Strengthens Developer Protections and App Review to Improve Play Store Quality

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Google has announced several major changes to strengthen protections for Android developers publishing apps on the Google Play Store. The company is also enhancing its app review process to further improve Play Store quality and safety.

These steps are part of Google’s ongoing efforts to combat malicious apps, fraud, and policy violations. They aim to benefit both developers and consumers by upholding app integrity across the extensive Play Store ecosystem.

New Testing Requirement for Developer Accounts

One of the most significant changes is that Google will now require new individual developers to test their apps before full launch.

Starting soon, developers with newly created Play Console accounts will need to test their app with at least 20 people for a minimum of 2 weeks prior to production release. This testing period will allow developers to identify issues, gather user feedback, and improve quality before public launch.

Google cites internal data showing that developers utilizing its testing tools see three times higher installs and engagement, on average. While testing was previously optional, making it mandatory for new devs should further boost app quality and experience.

The company believes this testing requirement will be especially beneficial for small and independent developers without an established user base. It provides real-world feedback so they can refine apps before release.

Expanded Investment in App Review Process

In addition to pre-launch testing, Google says it will devote more resources and staff to reviewing apps for policy compliance, fraud, and abuse.

While details remain limited, Google indicates its teams will spend more time thoroughly assessing new apps before they become available for download. This review aims to block apps that defraud users through misleading claims, illegal activities, or other tactics.

The expanded reviews may slow approvals for a “small portion of apps”, including those requesting advanced permissions or targeting children. But Google stresses this tradeoff will enhance protections and integrity across its vast app ecosystem.

Curbing Predetory Lending Apps

These changes directly follow incidents where predatory lending apps infiltrated both the Play Store and App Store in India. These apps offered exploitative loans to financially vulnerable people, then used unethical practices to force repayment.

Google and Apple ultimately removed the apps after public outcry. However, the troubling situation highlighted vulnerabilities in app review processes, particularly in the Play Store which reaches more Indian users. Bolstering reviews aims to curb such abusive apps in the future.

Supporting Developer Success

While instituting new app testing and review policies, Google says it also wants to help developers succeed in complying with Play Store standards.

One way it will assist developers is allowing them to choose preferred deadlines for meeting heightened verification requirements announced earlier this year. Developers who don’t select a timeline before February 2024 will have a deadline set for them.

Google is also adding new permission controls in Android 14 to enable more nuanced, selective access to user data like photos or videos. This will help developers request only necessary permissions.

Additionally, new Play Store features will highlight quality apps tailored to users’ devices and recommend popular regional apps. A new badge will also identify official government apps starting in 2024.

Ongoing Efforts to Strengthen App Security

The newly announced changes represent Google’s latest efforts to protect Play Store users and developers. Other recent initiatives include:

  • Launching real-time app scanning to detect malicious code and target abusive apps, reducing their distribution.
  • Removing apps with disruptive ads after receiving user feedback. This aims to provide a better experience.
  • Blocking apps that contain misleading titles or icons that mimic popular apps to trick users.
  • Banning apps with out-of-context user data collection or usage in their code. This further safeguards privacy.
  • Removing 100,000 bad developer accounts engaged in fraud and other violations to prevent recurrences.
  • Adding new policies restricting gambling and firearm apps to better protect minors and at-risk groups.

A Responsible Gatekeeper Role

As the gatekeeper of the Android app ecosystem accessed by over 3 billion devices, Google is under elevated pressure to ensure Play Store integrity.

By mandating hands-on testing and reviews for more apps, Google aims to more responsibly uphold its role. But its gatekeeping position also faces ongoing criticism and regulatory scrutiny over allegations of anticompetitive conduct.

Google stresses its newest changes are inspired by direct developer feedback to enhance the app environment. But regulators may argue more oversight is still needed to fully reform Google’s dominance of the mobile market.

Nonetheless, the policy updates represent encouraging progress by working proactively with developers and investing greater resources into app vetting. This shared responsibility approach will ultimately strengthen protections for consumers, devs, and Google itself.

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