Google Play announces stricter app reviews

On Tuesday, Google announced that its app store, Google Play, will now implement a two-step review process before applications can go live.

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Chris Yerga, engineering director of Android, speaks about Google play in San Francisco. The new service offers a lot of eye candy to go with the tunes. The song selection of around 18 million tracks is comparable to popular music streaming services such as Spotify. A myriad of playlists curated along different genres provides a big playground for music lover.

One of the features that has long distinguished Apple phones and tablets from Android’s has been security, but Google appears to be looking to close that gap.

On Tuesday, the tech giant announced via Android’s blog that applications submitted to Google Play, which has been wildly popular with independent developers thanks to its lack of restrictions, will now have to pass machine and employee inspection before they can go live. Additionally, Google will also be introducing a new game rating system to determine how age appropriate different apps are.

Google Play reaches more than a billion individuals in 190 countries, but the online store is known for having policies that allowed “anything and everything” to be uploaded to its app store. Looking to avoid alienating one of its core fan bases – developers – Google had to figure out how to increase security without it taking an excessive amount of time to approve new apps. 

In what appears to be a soft opening, of sorts, the company secretly rolled out the review program more than six months ago with no complaints or anyone even noticing, according to Google.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Google Play's director of business development, Purnima Kochikar, explained how the company needed to find a way to catch policy offenders early without adding “friction and delays” to the publishing process. Despite Google bringing the human element to its screening process, apps are approved in “hours, not days.”

“We started reviewing all apps and games before they’re published – it’s rolled out 100 percent,” says Ms. Kochikcar. “And developers haven’t noticed the change.”

The main reason Google is able to release apps so quickly is because it utilizes machine learning to pre-screen applications before they reach human reviewers. The software analyzes apps for viruses, malware, and other content violations. As TechCrunch points out, image analysis systems are able to single out apps that include sexual content or that infringe on copyrighted material.

Google noted that the new automation system is able to catch additional violations outside of malware, but declined to go into specifics. (Though if you dig through Google’s acquisitions, purchases such as Plinkart, an app that can identify art, and DNNresearch, which dramatically improved its photo search, could probably offer clues.)

“We’re constantly trying to figure out how machines can learn more,” Kochikar adds “So whatever the machines can catch today, the machines do. And whatever we need humans to weigh in on, humans do.”

Google has also made improvement to the publishing status of applications to allow for more transparency over why an app was rejected. In the Developer Console, appmakers will have access to a more detailed version of an application’s status, allowing for app violations to be resolved quickly. 

“Developers now have more insight into why apps are rejected or suspended, and they can easily fix and resubmit their apps for minor policy violations, ” the company says in a blog post.

In the same post, Google explained its intent to implement more control over how apps are rated.

While it was previously left up to individuals to choose a rating for their software, the new system requires developers to fill out a questionnaire that determines if the app is acceptable for minors or was made for more mature audiences. Developers will not be able to change the rating after it has been selected. They will instead have to fill out the questionnaire again and pass human inspection.

Google will base the rating system on the rules of the country that applications originate from. For example, the US uses the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) standard, so apps will begin appearing with the familiar “Everyone (E),” “Teen (T),” “Mature (M),” etc. For countries without specific guidelines, Google will create general ratings.

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