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Recently, I've noticed Google Play Store automatically "updating" apps, even when auto-updates are explicitly disabled.

I put "updating" in quotes, because all the apps in question don't truly have any updates available (according to the Google Play Store). Yet Google Play Store is downloading updates for these apps, and tools like SD Maid indicate recent "Last update" dates for each of these apps.

This updating is happening to almost every app. It's not limited to 1 or 2 apps, or a few specific developers.

An example is Date Calculator Pro. Google Play Store indicates the last update for that app was the 25th of December, 2020. But I caught Google Play Store updating that app today.

I suspect Google changed some policies and either Google itself is pushing updates to non-Google apps, or developers are scrambling to issue new "updates", even when no new functionality is added. But what's really weird is that the Google Play Store does not indicate any recent updates for any of these apps, and version numbers are not incremented.

Those are just my guesses. What's really going on?

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  • There is a new updated Play Store policy about updating apps, see this article from Ars Technica. But if apps are scrambling to update because of this, they should have newer version numbers/last updated dates.
    – Esther
    Jun 1 at 15:14
  • Actually, apparently updates for bug fixes don't need a new version number, so possibly updates for newer "target API version" don't either. Also, according to this reddit thread, this has been going on for years
    – Esther
    Jun 1 at 15:26
  • Have you see how large the updates were (bytes, kilobytes, megabytes?)
    – Robert
    Jun 1 at 16:28
  • @Robert in these cases, nothing actually updates. You can compare the old APK and the new one using some diff tool, and the code is exactly the same.
    – Esther
    Jun 1 at 16:33
  • @Robert I don't know the exact size of what is being pushed by Google, but given the time it takes to download each pseudo-update, I (roughly) estimate 1-4 megabytes per app. That's a very rough estimate based on the duration of each download given the network congestion at the time. Jun 2 at 14:09

1 Answer 1

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Apparently, what's happening here is that Google Play support libraries get auto-updated regardless of your update settings. If an app you installed relies on those libraries, an "update" to the app is triggered, even if no code in the app has changed, only some libraries it uses.

Since there isn't a way to stop Google Play auto-updating, there isn't a way to stop these app updates either.

Google made a change recently to the Play Store and the visibility of certain updates that used to occur silently. Now, when Play Support Libraries are updated, it will cause apps to "update" if the update replaces the support library version an app is relying on, so the app is essentially reinstalled when this happens—but with the only change being the Google Play Support Library version—not the app's code. The support libraries are what brings newer Android API features to older Android versions without having to be on the newer OS version (it doesn't bring everything, but it improves compatibility, allows for a unified experience across Android versions, and does sometimes bring features). So the older the version of Android, the more this is going to happen, since the older the OS version, the more the support libraries have to bring to that older OS version to bring it up to date.

And since Play Support Library updates can't be disabled, neither can the pseudo-update of the affected apps. There's no new code from the developer. It's just Google updating their part, and the app being rebuilt around the new update.

Source + more info: this Reddit post

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    wait, so if I deliberately don't update in order to avoid newer features, Google is going to make an end run around my choice and force those features on me anyway by back porting them and forcing me to update to those???
    – Michael
    Jun 2 at 17:15
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    @Michael you mean updates to Play Services? yes, Google Play Services updates whether you want it or not. The only way to avoid this is to remove Google Play Services entirely, which means you can't use any app that relies on them.
    – Esther
    Jun 2 at 17:39
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Firelord
    Jun 4 at 9:05
  • @Michael The app‘s code itself is not changed, so you won‘t get any new app features if you don‘t want them. Only Google Play libraries get updated, which now triggers a reinstall of the app with the same version as before - this should not affect your experience with the app.
    – w123
    Jun 4 at 9:52

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