Google+ account needed for Play app reviews

Google has announced you’ll need to be a Google+ member to review Android applications in the Play store from now on. It’s designed to weed out bogus reviews, both positive and negative.

Until now reviewers had the option to simply post as “A Google User.” In the future you will not only need to provide a name, but will have to “confirm” it as genuine by being logged in to a Google+ account. If you’ve uploaded a photo to your account, that will also appear beside the review.

The idea is to limit the way app developers can flood their listing with biased positive reviews, either by getting staff members to anonymously praise the product, or simply creating bogus identities. Of course, there’s now a neat business opportunity for anyone who wants to create an army of fake Google+ identities and hire them out for reviewing.

Industry figures are split about how well the change will work in practice. Some have pointed out that genuine users with legitimate criticisms might fear being identified (particularly as the Google Play store allows some developers to reply to reviews) or simply not want their app-buying habits made public.

The strategy will also be something of a testbed for Google. It’s previously talked about the idea of forcing commenters on YouTube to post under a confirmed real name, but been hesitant to bring in the policy. This will allow not only small scale testing of the technology, but also people’s willingness to sign up to Google+ just to be able to leave comments.

In theory such a policy could be a tremendous boost for recruiting new members to Google+. In practice there’s a strong risk it will simply boost the proportion of people who sign up to the social network and then rarely if ever visit or post on it, further enhancing the perception (however fair or unfair) that it’s a virtual ghosttown.