Google set to purge Play store of apps lacking a privacy policy

Google is warning developers that it plans to purge its Play store of apps that don’t have privacy policies.

The move could affect millions of apps that don’t spell out what they do with user data.

Developers worldwide have been receiving notices from Google this week, informing them that the company plans to “limit visibility” or to entirely remove such apps, according to The Next Web.

That could be a whole lot of apps. Google Play store had some 2.6m apps as of December 2016, according to statistics portal Statista.

Studies have found that mobile apps in general – both those in Google Play and in Apple’s app store – have been pretty dismal when it comes to privacy.

In 2014, a coordinated study of apps run by a group of national privacy and data protection bodies from all around the world found that some 85% were failing to provide adequate information on the privacy implications of using the app.

Google Play store app developers have until March 15 to do one of two things: either link to a “valid” privacy policy on their app store listing page and within their app, or stop asking for sensitive user data.

According to Google’s User Data policy, developers must be “transparent” in how they collect, handle and share user data.

That’s the bare minimum requirement, though. Requirements get stiffer still for personal and sensitive information.

That includes personally identifiable information (PII), financial and payment information, authentication information, phonebook or contact data, microphone and camera sensor data, and sensitive device data. If an app collects that kind of user data, it’s required by the User Data policy to…

  • Post a privacy policy in both the designated field in the Play Developer Console and from within the Play distributed app itself.
  • Handle the user data securely, including transmitting it using modern cryptography (for example, over HTTPS).

This is a good move both for the sake of user privacy and for the developers of (privacy-respecting) apps who’d like to get a bit more elbow room in the cluttered Google Play store.

One developer, Jack Cooney, creator of the app Hip Hop Ninja, was singing the praises of the purge. TNW quoted him:

I think it’s fantastic, this will clear the Google Play store of so many junk and zombie apps that our games will find increased visibility on the store as the search terms will become much less cluttered.

This will make it easier for people to be able to find our app’s [sic] like Hop Hop Ninja! with better keyword searches like ninja or Nerd Agency and find much more relevant results. (A previous pain point of developing for Android).