Google announced today a crackdown on app developers who buy ratings and reviews to deceive users or ruin competitors' reputation.
The crackdown will also target those app makers who use in-app tactics to reward users for ratings and reviews, such as providing access to in-game coins, extra levels, or even real-world money.
Besides app devs, the crackdown will also go after users who cross a civility line in their reviews by using profane, hateful, or off-topic language.
Also: Google Duplex worries me CNET
Google is now also urging Play Store users to report any reviews that users suspect are breaking these rules. The Android maker said it's trying to clean out the Play Store and promote an environment where users post constructive feedback instead of spam.
The company may be in for a long fight. With just a cursory search, anyone can find tens of sites that are currently offering Play Store reviews and ratings for small sums of money.
These sites aren't human-powered review farms. Most are just front businesses for Android botnets. Cyber-criminals infect Android phones with malware, and then use the malware as a bot to rate apps, place reviews, or install apps on demand (part of pay-per-install marketing schemes).
This is a thriving and very productive industry that generates large quantities of trash on the Play Store, flooding it with misleading ratings and reviews that sway app rankings and user opinion.
In Google's own words, the Android maker said it removed millions of Play Store reviews and ratings in the last week alone, and also removed thousands of apps that it believed had received suspicious reviews and ratings.
Also: How to organize your to-do list with Google Tasks TechRepublic
Now, in a blog post today, Google gave a public warning to all app developers who might still be using or think of using such services in the future.
Google touted a new "system that combines human intelligence with machine learning to detect and enforce policy violations in ratings and reviews," and advised app makers to follow its guidelines or face its looming ban hammer.
Previous and related coverage:
Study finds Google is tracking Android device location even when the phone is stationary.
But not for long - they will be gone again by Chrome 70.
DeepMind's neural networks will tweak data center conditions to cut power usage.
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