Google will now punish Android developers who incentivise users to leave positive reviews under new Play Store rules.

Fake reviews have long been the scourge of most app stores and shady third-party services are available which can automate reviews or even have staff manually leaving false positive reviews in a bid to boost the app’s rankings.

Google tackled these services (for the most part) with improvements to its algorithms which detect and filter these reviews, but cunning developers found another way of boosting their app rankings above the competition…

Increasingly, developers have been incentivising users to leave positive reviews in exchange for in-game items or other perks. Google has taken notice and, in a bid to help ensure reviews are credible, has now introduced a new policy which prohibits developers from using “incentivized ratings, reviews, and installs” to continue unfairly manipulating rankings in the Play Store.

When a new app is launched, if it begins getting loads of good reviews despite not necessarily having many installs then it can be put into the charts on Google Play where it can gain far more traction. Standing out is increasingly difficult as app stores become more crowded, so developers are constantly looking for ways to boost their apps even if the practices aren’t ethical.

Google does say that it understands incentivised installs can be a legitimate user acquisition channel for some developers. In order to recognize these two distinct use cases, they are taking the following approach:

  • Apps won’t automatically be removed from the store just because they utilise incentivised installs as one of their user acquisition channels, Google will monitor for, and take action against behaviour that compromises the integrity of the store.
  • To address those whose intent Google perceives is to manipulate the placements of their apps, the company will monitor and filter incentivised installs in their systems, including removal from the top charts. If warranted, identified apps also may be removed from the Play Store.

This seems to be a fair approach from Google which the company hopes will help to ensure the top charts and other discovery mechanisms on Google Play reflect the reality of the popularity of an app.

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