In response, a Google spokesperson emailed us with the following:
We noticed that there was some slight confusion from readers between the “most downloaded” [i.e. “most popular”] and “best” apps of the year. Many interpreted them as one in the same. We made a last minute change to the blog post to reflect what our editorial team deemed as the best/highest quality app of the year.
I understand why Google might have wanted to clarify what was its own judgement and what was based on downloads — I even noted that it was originally unclear. Google didn’t necessarily need to remove the “most popular” sections entirely to rectify this, though.
Further, the spokesperson didn’t address my question on why it replaced the aforementioned app, previously crowned one of the five most popular of 2017. The reason remains open to speculation; find out our thoughts in the previous coverage below.
Original coverage, 12/04/17: We covered the Google Play Best of 2017 awards last week, in which Google outlined the top apps, games, book, movies and TV shows that the store had seen this year. Over the weekend, Google quietly made some amendments to that original list and it has left us scratching our heads as to why.
The changes were spotted by Spanish-language website Android Jefe and among them was a removal of the “most popular apps” and “most popular games” sections (check out the original post here). These have now been replaced by the “best app” and “best game” categories. It’s an odd adjustment, given that Google had only just published the article and those were the first two sections (you would expect that the company was pretty confident about including them), but it’s not unthinkable.
After some digging, it seems that changes didn’t just arrive to Google’s original blog post, but its most popular apps list too. The app previously in the number one slot of this section — Photo Editor – Beauty Camera & Photo Filters — has now been swapped for another photo-centric app called FaceApp.
Photo Editor – Beauty Camera & Photo Filters has been installed between 10 and 50 million times and has an average rating of 4.2 stars. It’s undoubtedly popular, but it requests a whole bunch of uncommon camera app permissions, some of which might set alarm bells ringing. These include: rerouting outgoing calls, making calls directly, reading and writing the call log, and changing/intercepting network settings and traffic. Its use of lock screen ads is also at odds with current Google Policy, and Google said a few days ago that it would be cracking down on apps that collect and transmit personal data “unrelated to the functionality of the app.” It isn’t clear if these factors are connected to this situation, however.
The most popular apps section was likely based on raw numbers rather than the opinion of Google employees, so it’s possible that Google has simply overlooked the app when it first published the list. While this would be disappointing, especially considering that many websites that picked up the list may not have noticed the subsequent amendment, what’s worse is that we don’t know why it’s gone. Was it just included in error? Has Google since judged it to be low-quality and not fit for its best list? Is there a deeper problem with the app?
I’ve reached out to Google regarding the matter and will update this article should I receive a response. What’s your take on Google’s “best of” list? Let us know in the comments.