Google denies reports of unannounced changes to Android app review process – gpgmail


Multiple reports this week claimed Google had quietly rolled out a more in-depth app review process to all developers — changes designed to keep the Play Store safer from spam, malware, and copycat apps. Those reports are inaccurate, Google tells gpgmail. Instead, the company is giving itself more time to review apps from new, unestablished developers on the Play Store, as previously announced, but this hasn’t been extended to all developers.

Concerns about these so-called “unannounced changes” stemmed from a blog post by Choice of Games, which wrote that “all new apps” would be getting an additional review, slowing down app approvals. It claimed new apps would require at least three days for review, and this now included existing developers.

The post cited a conversation with Google Support as the source for its claims.

This led to a ton of confusion, as the development shop behind the post was well-established, having been on the Play Store since 2010 as would have been exempt from Google’s policy of increased reviews for new developers.

As it turns out, it appears there was miscommunication between Google Play Store developer support and the developer, according to the chat transcript that was published. The support person, “Liz,” was alerting the developer to the new policy Google announced in April, which detailed increased review times for Play Store newcomers. She didn’t appear to understand that she was speaking with a developer who had published on Google Play for nearly a decade.

Android Police also picked up the news, writing that it Google had “quietly instigated a more involved review process that impacts every app and update.”

Reddit and Hacker News also weighed in. In addition to the reported changes, developers were concerned there was now no way to schedule new app releases through the Timed Publishing feature. (That’s also not true — developers can publish to a closed testing track, then used Timed Publishing to go live to the public.)

A Google Developer Relations team member stepped in to clear things up on Reddit, and we’ve confirmed with Google that his responses were accurate.

Google’s updated app review process, first announced in April, hasn’t changed.

At the time, Google said:

“We will soon be taking more time (days, not weeks) to review apps by developers that don’t yet have a track record with us. This will allow us to do more thorough checks before approving apps to go live in the store and will help us make even fewer inaccurate decisions on developer accounts.”

Google began notifying developers directly in the Play Console in June that new apps by developers without a track record will take a couple of days longer to review. Google says that, since this change, it’s already seen a meaningful increase in the number of harmful apps blocked by Play even before they are published.

It’s not clear why the developer relations support person miscommunicated this information to the developer in question, but it points to a training issue on Google’s part.

It’s also unclear why the established developer’s app was held up in app review, beyond it just being a mistake on Google’s part.

Unfortunately for Google, Play Store developers have come to expect a speedy review process so any delays feel like unnecessary friction.

Unlike Apple, which employs a large team to carefully review app submissions and make hard calls on controversial apps, Google has more heavily relied on automation over the years. The company disclosed in the past how it uses software to pre-analyze apps for viruses, malware, and other content and copyright violations.

That process doesn’t always work, though. Only days ago, dozens of Android apps disguised as harmless photo editors and games were discovered to actually be adware. This follows similar news from January, where 85 apps were found to contain adware. And in May, where adware was discovered in some 200 apps totaling 150+ million installs. And, news from last November, where malware was found across over a dozen apps with half a million installs. And so on.

While it would make sense for Google to increase its review of all apps, given its inability to address this problem, that was not the case here.

 


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Google’s lightweight search app, Google Go, launches to Android users worldwide – gpgmail


Google Go, a lightweight version of Google’s search app, is today becoming available to all Android users worldwide. First launched in 2017 after months of beta testing, the app had been designed primarily for use in emerging markets where people are often accessing the internet for the first time on unstable connections by way of low-end Android devices.

Like many of the “Lite” versions of apps built for emerging markets, Google Go takes up less space on phones — now at just over 7MB — and it includes offline features to aid those with slow and intermittent internet connections. The app’s search results are optimized to save up to 40% data, Google also claims.

Beyond web search, Google Go includes other discovery features, as well — like the ability to tap through trending topics, voice search, image and GIF search, an easy way to switch between languages, and the ability to have web pages read aloud, powered by AI.

At Google’s I/O developer conference this spring, the company announced it was also bringing Lens to Google Go.

Lens allows users to point their smartphone camera at real-world objects in order to bring up relevant information. In Google Go, the Lens feature will help users who struggle to read. When the camera is pointed at text — like a bus schedule, sign or bank form, for example — Lens can read the text out loud, highlighting the words as they’re spoken. Users can also tap on a particular word to learn its definition or have the text translated.

While Lens was only a 100KB addition, according to Google, the updates to the Go app since launch have increased its size. Initially, it was a 5MB app; now it’s a little more than 7MB.

Previously, Google Go was only available in a few countries on Android Go edition devices. According to data from Sensor Tower, it has been installed approximately 17.5 million times globally, with the largest percentage of users in India (48%). Its next largest markets are Indonesia (16%), Brazil (14%), Nigeria (6%) and South Africa (4%), Sensor Tower says.

In total, it has been made available to 29 countries on Android Go edition devices, including: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Google says the app now has “millions” of users.

Today, Google says it will be available to all users worldwide on the Play Store.

Google says it decided to launch the app globally, including in markets where bandwidth is not a concern, because it understands that everyone at times can struggle with problems like limited phone storage or spotty connections.

Plus, it’s a lightweight app for reading and translating text. At Google I/O, the company had noted there are more than 800 million adults worldwide who struggle to read — and, of course, not all are located in emerging markets.

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Google Go is one of many lightweight apps Google has built for emerging markets, along with YouTube Go, Files Go, Gmail Go, Google Maps Go, Gallery Go and Google Assistant Go, for example.

The Google Go app will be available on the Play Store to global users running Android Lollipop or higher.


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Google Is Testing ‘Play Pass’ App and Game Subscription on Android


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Google seems to be planning an answer to the upcoming Apple Arcade service, which the iPhone maker will launch later this year. The so-called “Google Play Pass” has appeared in the Play Store for a small number of users. The service offers a selection of premium apps and games with no ads or in-app purchases for one monthly fee, but it’s unclear when or if Google will actually launch the service. 

The first hint of an app subscription appeared last year on XDA when the site found mention of Play Pass in a new version of the Play Store. The company didn’t have anything to say at the time, but now Play Pass is appearing on phones. This time, Google has confirmed that it is testing an app and game subscription feature. 

Apple Arcade, as the name implies, features games from developers like Konami, Lego, and Sega. Apple is leaning heavily on exclusive titles to push Arcade, but Google’s angle is to offer more than games. Play Pass will feature games like Stardew Valley and Marvel Pinball. No apps are included in the initial test, so we’re not sure exactly what Google is thinking. Although, the Play Pass subscription screen mentions premium music streaming and fitness trackers will be among the free apps. Google promises “hundreds” of apps and games as part of the service. 

The test includes a 10-day free trial to the service, after which Play Pass costs $4.99 per month. Of course, Google could modify the cost before officially announcing the service. Subscribers get unlimited access to all the premium apps and games offered under Play Pass, and they won’t see any ads in the content, either. Apps and games that contain in-app purchases will have all of them unlocked. However, Play Pass probably won’t work well with many free-to-play mobile games. Unlocking all those in-app purchases would break experiences built around “pay-to-win” mechanics — you’d instantly win with unlimited crystals, gold, or whatever the premium currency might be. 

Google might choose to announce Play Pass at its yearly October event, but it could just as easily launch it with a blog post. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Play Pass make some sort of appearance at the October event, possibly as a bundled feature in the new Pixel phones. Google already offers free Photos storage on Pixel phones. Why not some free apps to sweeten the deal?

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