Google Play Store is making a big upgrade to fight malware — what you need to know

A picture showing the Google Play Store app icon on a smartphone
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Google is cracking down on the slew of sub-par apps in its Play Store as part of its latest effort to show that it's taking concerns about Android security seriously. This week, Google announced stricter requirements for developers to follow if they want their apps to become available to the public on the best Android phones via the Play Store.

Previously, testing your app on the Play Console, Google's testing, management, and reporting platform for Android apps listed in the Play Store, was optional. But moving forward, new personal developer accounts will have to test their app with at least 20 people for a minimum of two weeks before it'll be allowed on the Play Store. This requirement will start rolling out in the next few days. 

The idea is that this two-week timeline will give developers more opportunity to gather feedback on bugs and security issues and patch them before the app goes live. In an Android Developers blog post, Google said developers who use its testing tools see on average three times more installs compared to those who don't. Those developers also get more engagement on their apps and games. 

"As more developers use new technologies in their mobile apps, apps on Play are becoming more sophisticated — but so are abuse methodologies," wrote Google Play's director of product management, Kobi Gluck. "To ensure we continue to provide a safe and trusted experience, our global review teams now spend more time assessing new apps to make sure they provide a valuable user experience that does not deceive or defraud users, either via the app or off-Play activity, and complies with our policies."

He added that while Google does not expect this new mandate to significantly impact overall app review timelines, it may take longer to review certain apps, such as those designed for children or ones that request certain device permissions. 

How to stay safe from adware and malicious apps

Recently, Google also rolled out a new Independent Security Review badge in the Play Store, which indicates which apps have successfully undergone a Mobile Application Security Assessment (MASA) audit. This process enables software developers to have their apps independently validated against a global security standard as a way to signal to users that what they're downloading on their phones has been designed to meet industry mobile security and privacy minimum best practices.

Looking out for this badge is one way to suss out otherwise legitimate-looking apps while you're browsing the Play Store. Beyond limiting how many apps you have installed, consider using one of the best Android antivirus apps for extra protection. 

If you’re on a tight budget though, Google Play Protect is good in a pinch, as it scans both your existing apps and any new ones you download for malicious code. Google Play Protect recently added real-time scanning so that whenever you go to install a new app, you're prompted by Android's built-in antivirus software to perform an app scan to check if it's safe. If something dangerous is uncovered, Google Play Protect will block the app and prevent you from installing it.

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Alyse Stanley
News Editor

Alyse Stanley is a news editor at Tom’s Guide overseeing weekend coverage and writing about the latest in tech, gaming and entertainment. Prior to joining Tom’s Guide, Alyse worked as an editor for the Washington Post’s sunsetted video game section, Launcher. She previously led Gizmodo’s weekend news desk, where she covered breaking tech news — everything from the latest spec rumors and gadget launches to social media policy and cybersecurity threats.  She has also written game reviews and features as a freelance reporter for outlets like Polygon, Unwinnable, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun. She’s a big fan of horror movies, cartoons, and miniature painting.