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In the past, Google has admitted that they have the ability to uninstall apps without user permission Exercising Our Remote Application Removal Feature

This post is almost 13 years old, Android was at a completely different stage, Google Play was still called Android Market back then. There is no more information or documentation on the internet about this "feature" other than this blog post.

Does anyone have any information about Google's "Remote Application Removal" feature and the latest status in 2023? Are there any known instances where Google triggered this feature (beyond the two apps the blog post admitted)? Does this feature still exist on modern Android versions? If so, is it possible to disable it (on a rooted phone)?

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    Apps with permission REQUEST_DELETE_PACKAGES can request the user to uninstall an app. This permission can be denied to an app using its corresponding AppOp permission. But Play Store app has the signature level permission DELETE_PACKAGES which can not be denied. So even if you disable the Play Protect feature (which may uninstall the harmful apps), Play Store app still has the ability to uninstall apps. Jun 19, 2023 at 11:12
  • @IrfanLatif: Here is an application that prevents Google Play Store from removing it: makeuseof.com/tag/trick-apps-android-rooted
    – Joshua
    Jun 19, 2023 at 16:19
  • @Joshua Magisk prevents Google Play Store app from uninstalling apps. This is what you are saying? Jun 19, 2023 at 16:35
  • @IrfanLatif: Magisk can make applications disappear from enumeration so that no other applications, including builtin applications can see they're present.
    – Joshua
    Jun 19, 2023 at 16:42
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    @Joshua Magisk can only hide root from installed apps. You need to use Zygisk / Xposed / LSPosed modules to hide apps from other apps. Jun 19, 2023 at 18:11

1 Answer 1

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Yes, the feature has been known as Google Play Protect since 2017.

As per Google Play Help - Use Google Play Protect to help keep your apps safe and your data private, one of its features is to remove harmful apps from the device:

Google Play Protect checks your apps and devices for harmful behavior.

  • [...]
  • It may deactivate or remove harmful apps from your device.
  • [...]

This is explained further in Google Play Protect - On-device protections:

PHA scanning services

Google Play Protect leverages cloud-based app-verification services to determine if apps are Potentially Harmful Applications (PHAs). Google Play Protect scans Android devices for evidence of PHAs.

Daily PHA scan

Google Play Protect's Verify Apps service scans devices once everyday. If a PHA is found, a notification asks the user to remove it. In cases where the PHA has no benefit to users, Google Play Protect can remove the PHA from affected devices and block future installs. [...]

[...]

Automatically disable PHAs

Some PHAs are more harmful than others and we treat them differently depending on the PHA classification. The most harmful PHAs are automatically removed from the device, while less severe PHAs are disabled. [...]

(Emphasis added)


One of the known occurrences is when the Handcent Next SMS app was flagged by Play Protect in 2022 and removed on some devices:


To disable this feature:

How to turn Google Play Protect on or off

Important: Google Play Protect is on by default, but you can turn it off. For security, we recommend that you always keep Google Play Protect on.

  1. Open the Google Play Store app.
  2. At the top right, tap the profile icon.
  3. Tap Play Protect > Settings.
  4. Turn Scan apps with Play Protect on or off.

However, there were a few reports that disabling only Play Protect still didn't prevent the apps from being removed.


Additional reading: Verify Apps, the previous feature before being integrated to Play Protect, Business Insider - How To Protect Your Android Phone From Harmful Apps.

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    Note that Next SMS was running a library that, among other things, would send your clipboard contents to a remote server (basically it scraped anything it could from your phone and bypassed permissions as best it could). When it was removed, Next SMS was brought back. Jun 19, 2023 at 15:59
  • This needs a bit more followup. It's not clear whether this would even work against a sideloaded apk applied by platform tools on a rooted phone.
    – Joshua
    Jun 19, 2023 at 16:15
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    @Joshua On a rooted phone you can stop anything from happening if you put in some effort. There's no single definition of what a "rooted phone" means when it comes to how close you are to stock Android, so any answer from "everything will work as usual" to "there's nothing Google can do" is equally valid.
    – TooTea
    Jun 19, 2023 at 16:47
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    Why is it scanning my device instead of scanning the copy of the apps on the Play Store? Jun 19, 2023 at 21:31
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    @user253751 Google could scan your device in the sense of checking whether you have any of the apps on the list of apps that they determined to be malicious. It could also scan apps installed from places other than the Play Store. It's also not really possible to catch all malicious apps by just scanning the code. Sometimes you catch those apps by looking at what the app actually does in practice. And after being installed, many apps downloads or reads things from external sources that cannot be verified (pretty much every ad-supported or online app does this).
    – NotThatGuy
    Jun 20, 2023 at 10:57

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