NEWS FROM THE LAB - Monday, March 11, 2013

Google Play: Potentially Unwanted Posted by Sean @ 16:12 GMT

Google Play has a problem — and it isn't malware.

Depending on location, Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUA) can be rather difficult to avoid.

Here's a screenshot of User Reviews from a "weather widget" application:

Google Play, User Reviews, English

In English (both U.S. and U.K.), there are eight user reviews. Just eight. Even if you click on a link to "Read All User Reviews".

But if you use the Danish UI… this is one additional review you'll see:

Google Play, User Reviews, Danish

And it's good that Danes can see it, because the reviewer explains it's a "nice" app that uses push notifications to drop spam ads, one of which presented his ten year-old daughter with an offer to win an iPad. The daughter provided her father's phone number… and it ended up costing 150 Danish Krone (about 26 USD).

Worst of all — this weather widget app is the second result among free apps if Danes search for "vejr".

More popular, and far more reputable, applications such as "AccuWeather" (TM) haven't done Search Engine Optimization for the Danish market and so end up lower in "relevant" results.

Here are the Russian user reviews:

Google Play, User Reviews, Russian

There's a word being repeated in the reviews: вирус — that's Russian for "virus".

Which technically, it isn't — even if it is using notifications to drop spam ads to sites which use multiple redirects to enable geo-aware affiliate schemes. Not a virus — but definitely unwanted.

That's the way a lot of "free" applications are in Google Play. Results vary by location. In Finland, this PUA drops notifications which redirect to a poker app, which involves little more than a commission being paid out if the poker application is installed. In Denmark, the notifications sometimes redirect to SMS billing schemes. In Russia… well, it could redirect to almost anything.

There's no way to know what you'll get until you get it.

And unfortunately Google Play doesn't provide tools to avoid those attempting to game the system.

Here's a Google Play search result:

Google Play, We couldn't find anything for your search

Hmm, couldn't find anything.

Google Play lacks useful tools or even a decent set of sort options. But then — if one could sort through Play results — fewer searches would be generated which the world's biggest advertising company could then use to profile its users. Fewer searches equals fewer data points. Search is for better or worse part of the Android experience.

Google doesn't do sort.

So search it is. But it's somewhat strange that neither Google Translate nor Maps are used to enhance the Play experience.

Translate — is there some reason why the company whose Chrome browser offers to translate almost everything can't be bothered to translate (or even offer to display) all of its Play reviews?

Maps — this is just an educated guess, but many positive reviews for apps of questionable quality are probably from the developer's back yard. Personally, we'd like to see where the reviewers are located. A feedback map would be much more useful than the current bar graph.

Google Play: there's room for improvement.