Ask Jerry: How do I remove malware?

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Welcome to Ask Jerry, where we talk about any and all the questions you might have about the smart things in your life. I'm Jerry, and I have spent the better part of my life working with tech. I have a background in engineering and R&D and have been covering Android and Google for the past 15 years. 

Ask Jerry

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Ask Jerry is a column where we answer your burning Android/tech questions with the help of long-time Android Central editor Jerry Hildenbrand.

I'm also really good at researching data about everything — that's a big part of our job here at Android Central — and I love to help people (another big part of our job!). If you have questions about your tech, I'd love to talk about them. 

Email me at, and I'll try to get things sorted out. You can remain anonymous if you like, and we promise we're not sharing anything we don't cover here.

I look forward to hearing from you!

What can I do about malware?

The manage apps and devices tab of the Google Play Store.

(Image credit: Brady Snyder / Android Central)

Anonymous writes:

I know this is a longshot, but by chance do you know how to remove malware from my Android phone that came from the Google Play Store?


Howdy anon! I love this one because it's a question about a very confusing topic. I'm sure a lot of folks are wondering something similar because of the way the word malware gets used.

I'm guilty of doing it too, so I'm not being judgmental or anything. I'm just saying malware doesn't necessarily mean what you think it means.

First things first — removing it. You say it came from the Play Store, so you can probably do nothing and it will get removed by itself. Google uses what it calls Play Protect, which is a sort of malware scanner that is good at detecting malware and can alert you or even uninstall it for you.

If you'd rather not wait, or it's something Play Protect hasn't caught, you can uninstall it like any other app from Google Play:

  • Open your phone's settings.
  • Find the section for Apps. Open it and find a link for "All apps" and tap it.
  • You'll find the app in the list, and tapping it will open a page where you can uninstall it.

With the offending app out of the picture, let's talk more about malware. 

What is malware?

Android malware on a Sony smartphone

(Image credit: Android Central)

The Oxford Dictionary defines malware as "software specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system." But everyone seems to have a different opinion. Malware can affect even the best Android phones.

To me, malware is a name for a computer program (your phone is a computer) that does more than it is supposed to do — usually things we don't want it to do. Many people writing about tech for a living have a similar definition. Others think of malware more like Oxford does.

This overly broad interpretation means the word gets thrown around a lot, and everyone who uses it has a different idea of what it is. This is fine but confusing because you might read someone like me calling an app malware, but Google doesn't consider it malware. 

Google has specific rules about apps and their permissions, and as long as an app follows those rules, it can stay in the Play Store.

An example would be an app that collects and shares data, but only after we agreed that it could collect and share it. As long as we give permission — by clicking yes and not reading the terms and conditions — the app isn't doing anything wrong as far as Google is concerned.

Other people might call an app that harvests data it doesn't need to work "malware." I would call it malware. Google would not in this case because the app is doing what it promised it would do.

What really matters is what you think. Uninstalling apps is easy unless the company that made your phone put them into the OS, but taking time to read what you're installing isn't. Some developers know you're not going to read through 10 pages of text when you install an app and count on you to click Agree, so they can act a little bit shady.

The best way to fight malware? Keep your phone's software up to date, don't install apps from places you don't trust, and read both the app's reviews and the terms and conditions. 

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Mooncatt

    First, if it came from the Play Store, there's a 99.999999% chance it's not malware. Contrary to Jerry's personal opinions and attempts at changing an established definition, an app isn't malware simply because it's doing something you don't like.

    So the short answer is if you get an app from the play store you don't like, simply uninstall it. If you think something is truly malware by the correct definition on your Android device, then a factory reset may be in order, followed by an in depth look at your security and privacy practices before setting it up again. It's hard enough to get malware installed that you almost have to be trying for it to be successful. Or you have a severely outdated device that is years beyond getting security updates, in which case you need to upgrade.