This week, Google is hosting its annual I/O developer conference, where today it announced that Android is now installed on over two billion monthly active phones and tablets. The company is preparing for the next major version of the OS, launching its Android O Beta Program today.
Android has been frequently plagued by security issues, including some instances of malware being distributed through its Google Play Store. High-profile vulnerabilities like Stagefright have put the platform's flaws front and center, and it was only after such incidents generated headlines around the world that Google eventually realized that it needed to issue monthly security patches for the OS. Despite those efforts, Google admitted that half of all active Android devices didn't receive a single security update last year.
So it certainly raised a few eyebrows today, when Google's Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson said that "Android was built with security in mind from day one", pointing to application sandboxing as the basis for that claim.
"As Android has matured," she continued, "we've developed vast mobile security services. Now, we use machine learning to continuously comb apps uploaded to [Google] Play, flagging potentially harmful apps." Over a billion devices are checked daily, she added, as the company scans "every installed app, on every connected device" - a total of over 50 billion apps a day - and automatically disables or removes potentially harmful software.
These security features are integrated with Google Play Services, and available to all Android devices that connect to Google's store. But as Cuthbertson pointed out, most users don't know that those security features are built into their devices. "So, for greater peace of mind," she explained, "we're making them more visible and accessible, and doubling down on our commitment to security, with the introduction of Google Play Protect."
Google Play Protect is "available out of the box on every Android device with Google Play". The new Protect features make the security optimizations in Android more visible to users, with a prominent "Play Protect is scanning..." indicator in the Play Store, and displaying a clear "no problems found" card to verify that there are no harmful apps installed on a user's device.
Google didn't make clear exactly how the interface would deal with problematic software; what options might be presented to users in such a scenario; or whether or not the system would simply remove/disable the apps and present the same "no problems found" status.
The company appears to be more keenly aware of Android users' security concerns these days, and its efforts to be seen taking those concerns seriously may well prove reassuring to many owners of Android devices.