Most of the Android malware scares we hear about originate from shady third-party marketplaces, but that doesn’t mean the Play Store isn’t suspicious. Google has announced several changes to make apps safer and less annoying for users. In fact, one of the first steps would be to limit how long intrusive video ads can be.
The first change won’t be immediately obvious to users, but it can have a positive effect on your battery. On July 31, Google will begin enforcing stricter limits on the use of exact alarms. An “alarm” in this context is a trigger that wakes up your device so that it can perform a task. Any apps targeting the latest version of Android will need to use the new USE_EXACT_ALARM permission if they need to wake your phone from a low-power state without delay. However, only apps that really need it, like timers and event notifications, will be allowed to do so.
Starting September 30, developers will be required to limit the length of full-screen video ads. These are a common feature of free apps, inserting videos between levels (if you’re lucky) or in the middle of gameplay (if you’re not). Going forward, these ads must be skippable after no more than 15 seconds However, if you’re using an app that lets you watch videos to unlock content or features, those ads may be longer.
At the end of August, Google will implement several changes aimed at improving safety and security. For one, the new incognito guidelines mean apps won’t be able to use misleading icons that make them appear affiliated with governments or organizations. Google offers a few examples of icons that will be banned after the change Google will also ban apps that “contrary to existing medical consensus” and harm users.
Another policy change in August is something I’m surprised Google didn’t ban a long time ago. Android supports a feature called FLAG_SECURE, which allows developers to indicate an app’s sensitive information and screenshots should not be allowed. This is common for streaming and banking apps. Google will no longer allow apps that try to bypass this feature to record content on the screen. The only exception is the Screen Reader Accessibility Tool.
Finally, Google is cracking down on VPN apps in the Play Store. Starting August 31, apps on the Play Store will not be allowed to access Android’s VPN functionality if they collect personal information, manipulate traffic, or serve ads. Google will still allow some exceptions such as apps for parental controls, app usage tracking and network analysis tools. However, there are some concerns that this could affect legitimate, privacy-preserving features such as DuckDuckGo’s prevention of app tracking. Even if it’s not intended, Google’s app reviewers often apply the rules with little regard for it.