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Google adds evil-code scanning to Play Store

Android marketplace gets automatic scanning and age limits

Google is cleaning up its app store to limit the amount of malware and age-inappropriate content.

For the past two months the advertising giant has been quietly running a new scan of all applications for code that breaks its terms of service. Today it announced the program's existence, noting that the scanning is both automatic and manual. The high levels of malware found on the Play Store have long been a problem - even being used by Apple to promote its own "safer" products.

As well as the scanning, the Chocolate Factory has also updated developer status reports that explain why apps have been rejected to include more detail. And it will introduce age ratings.

"We value the rapid innovation and iteration that is unique to Google Play, and will continue to help developers get their products to market within a matter of hours after submission, rather than days or weeks," the Android developer team said in a poke at Apple's systems. "In fact, there has been no noticeable change for developers during the rollout."

The move is welcome, if belated. Apple introduced malware checking from day one when it decided to allow developers into iOS (albeit with some slip-ups). But Google waited until 2012 to do so, and the delay - and the open door policy that allows third-party markets to flourish - has made Android a target for malware writers.

Google has made efforts in the past to limit malware - with some success - but the Android marketplace still contains huge amounts of dodgy code. The new scanning should help that, and better protect customers who spend billions of dollars each year in the Play Store.

As for the age rating system, it will be rolled out over the next few weeks and will require developers to fill out a questionnaire to determine the age-rating of the software before it's sold.

The questionnaire has been developed with the Age Rating Coalition (IARC), Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), Pan-European Game Information (PEGI), the Australian Classification Board and other regional bodies to tie in apps with existing and well understood age ratings.

Since its launch in October 2008, the Play Store has cleared over $20bn in sales. While its open approach has allowed for faster turnarounds and attracted developers to Android over the more restrictive Apple App Store, it remains remarkable that it has taken Google so long to institute decent security screening. ®

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