Google removes Android app privacy feature - Mobile World Live

Google removes Android app privacy feature

17 DEC 2013

Google removed an app privacy feature from the latest version of Android, saying its inclusion was accidental, according to digital rights body the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The company had enabled technology which allowed users to install apps but prevent them from collecting sensitive data, such as a user’s location or address book.

After praising the functionality in a blog post, the EFF was contacted by several people saying the feature had been removed in Android 4.4.2 (KitKat), the version of Android released at the beginning of last week.

The foundation then installed the update on a test device, which confirmed the disappearance of the App Ops privacy feature.

Google said the feature was experimental and had initially been released by accident. It argued that it was removed as it had the potential to break some apps.

In response to questions from developers, Google Android engineer Dianne Hackborn said on Google+ that the UI was not for end users and mostly for platform engineers to examine, debug and test the state of that part of the system.

Peter Eckersley, technology projects director at the EFF, said in a blog post that the organisation is suspicious of Google explanation as it does not justify the removal of the feature with the problem of apps breaking easy to fix.

Eckersley described the inability for users to turn off app permissions is “a Stygian hole” in the Android security model through which data of a billion people is passing through. He noted it is a problem Apple solved for iOS several years ago.

The only way Google can show it cares about the privacy problem, according to Eckersley, is to re-enable the App Ops interface. “Google, the right thing to do here is obvious,” he commented.

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Tim Ferguson

Tim joined Mobile World Live in August 2011 and works across all channels, with a particular focus on apps. He came to the GSMA with five years of tech journalism experience, having started his career as a reporter... More

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