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Google Play Store just unveiled a security badge for some apps. Here's what it means

Starting with VPN apps, Google will display unique badges for apps in the Play Store that prioritize user security and privacy.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor
Image: Getty Images

Google's Play Store has been persistently threatened by malicious and insecure apps over the years, triggering alarm bells among many Android users. In response, the company is trying a new tactic to generate more trust with people looking for safe and reliable software.

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In a recent blog post, Google detailed that it has started highlighting certain apps in the Play Store that have passed independent security reviews. These reviews come from third parties that use a global security standard to gauge an app's trustworthiness and resiliency against malware and security flaws. The goal is to feature apps that have met a certain minimum in best practices for security and privacy, hopefully instilling a higher level of user confidence.

"Our efforts to prioritize security and privacy transparency on Google Play are aligned with the needs and expectations we've heard from both users and developers," Google said in its blog post. "We believe that by prioritizing initiatives that bolster user safety and trust, we can foster a thriving app ecosystem where users can make more informed app decisions, and developers are encouraged to uphold the highest standards of security and privacy."

The reviews use a process called Mobile Application Security Assessment (MASA), introduced last year by the App Defense Alliance (ADA). The ADA is a partnership between Google and security firms ESET, Lookout, and Zimperium that kicked off in 2019. MASA lets developers submit their apps for validation against the global standard to certify that they've successfully identified and resolved security holes.

After a successful validation, Google allows developers to display an independent security review badge in the Data Safety section of an app's Google Play page. Though the certification doesn't mean an app is completely free of vulnerabilities, the badge serves as a sign that a developer has prioritized security, privacy, and user safety, Google stated.

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To help Android users more easily find the new badges, Google has unveiled a new Play Store banner for specific types of apps. Starting with VPN programs, the banner will appear in many places. Here's how to find the security badges.

When you search Google Play for a specific app category, such as VPNs, the banner will appear on the search results page. Tapping the "Learn more" link displays a list of apps in the App Validation Directory that have passed the security review.

The badge for independent security reviews on the search results page in Google Play
Screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

You can also open the Google Play page for a specific app and head to the "Data safety" section. The details in this section explain if and how the app shares, collects, and encrypts your data. This section also displays the independent security review badge. 

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By tapping a link to see details, you can dive deeper into each piece of information. Tapping another details link for independent security review explains how the MASA process works for developers and users.

The badge for independent security reviews on an app's page in Google Play
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Among VPN providers, NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and SkyVPN have passed the security reviews, allowing them to display the associated badges. Google is asking other VPN app developers to sign up for the security testing, which they can do by filling out and submitting the appropriate form.

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