Why the Google Play Store lost 1 million apps in 4 years

Why the Google Play Store lost 1 million apps in 4 years

The number of apps available on the Google Play Store plummeted by more than 1 million in four years, an analysis by tradingplatforms.com has shown.

According to the site, the Google Play Store hosted just short of 2.6 million apps by March this year, a 28% decline from the roughly 3.6 million it offered in March 2018, four years ago.

Tradingplatforms.com said the decline was due to Google’s periodic purging of apps that violated its terms of service, some of which were malicious and intruded on user privacy. Tradingplatforms.com’s Edith Reads said Google had a duty to protect its customers.

“Its Play Store is teeming with apps that could interfere with the proper functioning of users’ devices. Some could even jeopardise the security of users who download them. This reality makes such cleanups inevitable.”

The graph below shows the decline in apps on the Google Play Store between March 2018 and March 2022.

Google uses standards that developers who wish to list their apps on its store must adhere to, including a commitment to adhering to its user data policies.

“Those policies stress transparency in how those apps interact with users’ data. The threshold is higher for any apps handling sensitive and confidential information,” tradingplatforms.com said.

Google has been using both human reviewers and AI tools to flag malicious or non-compliant apps since 2015. Despite this, malicious apps have managed to make their way onto the store time and again, potentially exposing personal data stored on millions of Android devices.

In one recent instance, nine apps were found to be stealing Facebook login details and passwords and were only removed by Google after being downloaded more than 5.8 million times.

Gradual improvements

But Google has gradually improved its checks and balances on malicious apps on its stores, as evidenced by RiskIQ’s Mobile App Threat Landscape Report for 2020. It found that Google had around 60% fewer blacklisted apps on VirusTotal in 2020 compared to 2019, declining from 25,647 to 10,292.

That followed a decrease of over 76% from 108,770 to 25,647 between 2018 and 2019. Google’s main rival in the smartphone platform front is Apple.

The company is renowned for treating its App Store like Fort Knox, with stringent approval policies and a typically longer turnaround time for clearing an app for publication.

While this has been known to frustrate some app developers, it also ensures better control mechanisms to prevent nefarious apps from landing on the store by accident.