Don't Trust Google Play Protect to Shield Your Android

Google Play Protect is supposed to protect users from malicious apps in the Google Play Store — but of 20 Android programs evaluated by AV-Test, Google Play Protect bears the dubious honor of being the only one that doesn’t routinely protect its users. It's definitely not one of the best Android antivirus apps.

Credit: Google

(Image credit: Google)

Those results come from AV-Test, a Madgeburg, Germany-based security firm, which periodically evaluates antivirus programs for Windows, Mac OS and Android. 

Overall, the results of its latest antivirus testing were pretty encouraging. Of 20 programs tested, AV-Test awarded 12 perfect scores and 19 recommendations. Only Google Play Protect didn’t make the cut.

MORE: Best Antivirus for Android

AV-Test scores each AV suite out of a possible 13 points: six for protection, six for usability and the one remaining point for extra features. Earning eight points is enough to secure at least a tentative recommendation from the company.

Perfect scores were incredibly common. AhnLab V3 Mobile Security, Alibaba Mobile Security, Avast Mobile Security, AVG AntiVirus Free, Bitdefender Mobile Security, G Data Internet Security, Kaspersky Lab Internet Security for Android, McAfee Mobile Security, PSafe DFNDR Security, Symantec Norton Mobile Security, Tencent WeSecure and Trend Micro Mobile Security & Antivirus each earned 13 points apiece. 

If you’ve secured your phone or tablet with one of these programs, you’ve got nothing to worry about — and if you haven’t, you probably should. Many of these companies make some of the best Mac antivirus software, as well as some the best antivirus software overall.

At the other end of the spectrum was Google Play Protect, with an ignominious zero points earned in protection. (At least it got six for usability.) The program detected only 63 percent of real-world malware and 71 percent of reference data malware that AV-Test threw its way.

Credit: AV-Test

(Image credit: AV-Test)

This may not sound like a problem, since Google Play Protect is not a traditional antivirus suite like the other programs tested. Remember: Google Play Protect scans programs within the Google Play Store itself before you download them, then keeps tabs on them periodically once they’re installed. It’s not running scans and quarantining files like a standard AV suite.

However, remember that in most cases, it's trivially easy to fool the Google Play Store into accepting malware. For every shady program Google Play removes, there are probably still ten more lurking in the shadows. Google Play Protect is often an Android user’s only line of defense against malware. If it’s not stopping 30 to 40 percent of it at the source, it’s not providing protection when it counts most: before users ever install something compromising.

In-between the perfect products and Google Play Protect are a handful of programs that scored between 10 and 12.5 on AV-Test’s scale. These include Antiy AVL, Avira Antivirus Security Pro, Cheetah Mobile Security Master, F-Secure SAFE, Ikarus, Quick Heal Mobile Security and Sophos Mobile Security. If you have one of these programs, you’re probably fine, but don’t be surprised if the protection or usability aren’t perfect.

Ultimately, Google Play Protect’s lapses aren’t shocking, given that it’s not a full AV suite, but it does mean that average Android users are not nearly as well protected as they could be. Since some of the other suites on offer are free, it’s worth installing one and at least performing a system scan. The only thing worse than knowing that your Android device is compromised, is not knowing that your Android device is compromised.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.