For anyone familiar with the Google Play Store, one of the most noticeable issues is the number of bad apps. The ratings are barely enough to know which of the tons of apps on the Play Store are good enough. Google is no doubt aware of this, and apart from using customer feedback to rate these apps, the company is now adding machine learning.
The harm caused by harmful apps to devices runs deeper than most people feared at first. Millions of devices are invaded by malware every day, caused by apps that steal vital personal information. These apps secure access to our bank and personal details—leaving us with tales of woes.
According to Google, some of these apps actually get more private information than expected. They access and steal “personal data and sensor data from components, like cameras and GPS trackers.”
Google’s new machine learning tool will be looking out for those apps that often request and send out loads of user data. According to 9to5google, the tool will group apps based on their similarities, and will base its actions on privacy and security signals.
Martin Pelikan, Giles Hogben, and Ulfar Erlingsson of Google’s Security and Privacy team explain in a post on Wednesday:
“To protect our users and help developers navigate this complex environment, Google analyzes privacy and security signals for each app in Google Play. We then compare that app to other apps with similar features, known as functional peers. Creating peer groups allows us to calibrate our estimates of users’ expectations and set adequate boundaries of behaviors that may be considered unsafe or intrusive. This process helps detect apps that collect or send sensitive data without a clear need, and makes it easier for users to find apps that provide the right functionality and respect their privacy.”
With peer grouping, Google will be able to use machine learning to identify those bad apps that have ulterior motives. Any app that is asking for permission to access your microphone, location, and phone book for example, will henceforth be flagged off immediately, while Google security engineers takes necessary steps to take a closer look at it.
The goal is quite clear and unambiguous; Google is only interested in those apps that target your privacy.
“We focus on signals that can negatively affect user privacy, such as permission requests that are not related to core app functionality, and the actual, observed behaviors,” explains Martin Pelikan of Google’s security and privacy team over email per The Verge. “For example, a flashlight app might not need access to address book of the user or the precise hardware identifier of a user’s phone. The same might hold for many other apps, such as ‘mirror’ apps that turns on a device’s front-facing camera.”
Four years ago, Google banned all self-updating Android apps from the Google Play Store in an attempt to stop automatic updates.
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