Google Play cleans out nasty apps, updates its look

New Google Play on Android phone
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By Suzanne Choney

Google Play, the app store for Android phones and tablets, is not only rolling out a cleaner look, it's cleaning house, so far removing a reported 60,000 apps that were of questionable quality.

"The largest category of apps they cracked down was the MP3s and ringtones, which were heavily abused by slightly dodgy apps," Chester Wisniewski, Sophos senior security advisor, told NBC News Tuesday.

The apps "weren't technically illegal" as to violate Google Play rules, but were "heavily intrusive marketing vehicles that barely delivered on their promise," he said.

Google Play has 700,000 apps, and unlike "Uncle Apple," Wisniewski said, Google does "not prescreen apps using humans, there's an automated system" for apps to be allowed into the store.

The purging of the apps, he said, was done in February. "The fact that Google got rid of tens of thousands of apps that were duping people, upsetting users, is great. What we don't know is how have they changed their processes to make sure those apps don't come back in a week."

Problems with questionable and sometimes dangerous apps were becoming such an issue that in February 2012, Google introduced "Bouncer," a scanning service designed to identify malicious apps in Google Play.

NBC News has contacted Google for comment about the recent purge, and will update this post when we hear back.

When Bouncer was introduced, a Google Android engineering exec noted on the company's blog:

While it’s not possible to prevent bad people from building malware, the most important measurement is whether those bad applications are being installed from Android Market - and we know the rate is declining significantly.

Wisniewski said to be safe, Android users and buyers should make sure they have the latest version of Android that they can get on their devices. Phones and tablets with Android 4.0 and higher "have a whole ton of safety and security improvements on them," he said.

"There's still a whole bunch of cheaper ones out there running older OS's that are more vulnerable Android 2.2, or 2.1 really, really old versions of Android that are more vulnerable."

In the meantime, Google Play group product manager Michael Siliski shared news of the app store redesign, writing on a blog that the new look "focuses on bigger images that jump off the page. Similarly themed content is grouped together so you can hone in on a magazine to read or an app to try."

Google has also "simplified purchasing so you can breeze through checkout," he wrote.

The new look starts rolling out immediately for Android phones and tablets that use Android 2.2. and higher, and will be available around the world "in the next few weeks."

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