Buggy app you abandoned isn’t updating with the Play Store

The Google Play Store has got to be up there in bandwidth usage. I’m talking the Play Store for everyone on the planet, not your app’s data usage. With every app update out there being 100 megs for next to nothing changed, Google implemented some logic on the Play Store to curb that. It doesn’t appear to update apps you don’t use. Ever.

TL;DR – use it, or realize it’s never updating.

I wrote a while back about the logic behind their update being problematic, but last night due to some ravioli complications I was up late and waiting for some heartburn to pass (not a normal thing for me.) I did the following:

Play Store says no updates

I checked the Play Store for updates. There were none. I checked it again. There were none. I forgot to get a screenshot of no updates being available, you’ll need to trust me on this one. There were none. I promise.

I have over 120 apps on my phone, but for purposes of this I’d say the field I’m mentioning below was about 80 apps. I went to each of the apps I have not used in a while, opened it, verified that it was running / done, and switched to the next app. As noted, this is a ravioli-driven piece that I started at 11: 30pm last night while I was trying to figure out if I was going to throw up, or wait on the calcium chews I’ve used a total of four times in five years. Not a normal night.

So, 50-80 apps opened, and then I went to the Play Store to investigate if things had changed. Surprise surprise they had.

Play Store shows 20 updates after I opened every app on my phone.
20 updates suddenly appear

Updates from as far back as December 1, 2021 suddenly appeared. There may be some older ones, I was not diligent in my note taking last night. 268 day old updates that I can see just in the screenshot above.

I let the phone download and update these 20 apps and thought that was a pretty high number of non-updating apps. Came back a little later and just checked the Play Store for updates just because and… there were 13 more updates. These were strange.

Play Store shows 13 more app updates, all of which had been opened recently

Everything in the first batch was programs I haven’t used in a while, everything in the second batch with the exception of Google Duo / TV have been probably used within the past week or two. Chrome Beta, Credit Karma, and Twitter had been used that day meaning there was at least one 10-day old update suddenly appearing.

Overall, according to the Play Store history, 36 apps were updated yesterday. I don’t know if more updated after I went to sleep or had before this experiment.

Why it matters that updates aren’t coming in

You might think if it’s not used, why bother with updating it? right? It’s a good thought. Save a petabyte here or there. I agree with this sentiment in theory.

In my dealings above honestly there’s only one app I “abandoned” due to problems, and it wasn’t particularly egregious. I never noticed that there was an update to the app and probably would have used it once had I known it was fixed. Maybe not. I’m not everyone’s use case however.

What happens when App X has a security flaw that can be exploited? You haven’t used it in a while because: reasons. Suddenly you open it up and you’re running the app from last year. That banking app someone hacked and everyone was warned to not use it till it was fixed and you stopped using it and forgot about? Welcome to two months from now running it and finding out your phone is controlled and part of a botnet.

I had this happen (the app from last year scenario,) with a game I play recently and was forced to 1) update, 2) lost all the data because of a bug in the old version of the app, 3) had to play an un-skippable training routine for 15 minutes just to get the game back.

It could be fixed without changing the data saving

So, I’m not advocating Google changes the idea of “don’t update unused apps,” however I would strongly suggest that when an unused app is launched that the OS and Play Store to a quick check before hauling it out of the freezer to see if there’s an update for it.

Something along the lines of a popup saying “you haven’t used this in so long we stopped dusting it. There’s a new version which might fix problems or add features. Do you want to update?”

Same great data savings with a twist of smart update logic.

What can you do?

While I’d say the security risks are pretty low most likely, if you’ve stopped using an app because of an error, go ahead and tap it and then check the Play Store to see if there’s an update.

Also send feedback to The Googs asking for this feature. At some point the old app attack vector will be used. There’re just too many apps and too many bad actors to assume it won’t, and the fix is so simple.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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One thought on “Buggy app you abandoned isn’t updating with the Play Store

  • Avatar of MisterBill

    I’ve also noticed this since getting a new phone with Android 13. Very annoying to open an app and have it tell me that it needs to update, even though I’ve already installed all available updates (and I couldn’t care less if they use extra Wi-Fi or regular data to download updates for unused apps). Is there anything that can automatically “touch” each app to make it look like they’ve been run? Of course, that may screw things up in terms of the system caching what it thinks are active apps.


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