24
Jun
g1-promoted-on-google.com

One of the requirements for writing for AP is that I follow 91 RSS feeds selected by Artem (don’t tell – I only follow 90. I’m just the rebellious type). I’ve seen at least a dozen articles today raising privacy concerns over the fact that Google can remotely remove users’ apps, and did so today to users who had 2 specific apps installed. So what?

To me, this shouldn’t be surprising, and isn’t a big deal. It’s standard operating procedure to have this control (Amazon has it with the Kindle, Apple has it with the iPhone), and whenever the capability has been used, it’s because of security or legal concerns. In the case of today’s removal by Google, they removed two apps because they both posed threats to users’ data. As the vast, vast majority of users of the phone don’t even know how to check what an app is actually doing, it’s unlikely that the end user would have ever figured this out.

What I’m getting at here is that Google’s looking out for its customers here. No software can ever be 100% secure, and Google knows that it needs to protect users in order to protect its interests. Google isn’t an evil company, people – they have morals, and stick to them – something that’s not all that common in the corporate world. We’re talking about the company who pulled out of China, a 1.-something billion person market, because China wanted them to restrict search results and they wouldn’t do it on moral principle.

google-china

Others have complained that they just don’t like it because they're worried about losing an app they paid for or an app that was installed unofficially. As for losing an app you paid for - if history is any precedent here (and it should be), I’d imagine they would, just like Amazon did when they removed a book from users’ Kindles. And the threat of them remotely removing apps you’ve installed unofficially – I just can’t really see that happening. Google is big on collecting user data, yes – but I doubt they’re sitting there keeping track of every app you use on your phone. I’m guessing they’re looking at the official list when they remove apps.

I’m not naive – I know that at the end of the day, Google is a corporation, which means it exists to make money and increase shareholder wealth – but at the same time, their slogan is “Don’t be evil.”

Aaron Gingrich
Aaron is a geek who has always had a passion for technology. When not working or writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing a game, or watching a movie.

  • Anonymeuse

    As far as morality goes, Google is a great company. This, however, I do not agree with. Google should definitely have the right to remove apps from the market, but removing apps from a users phone is ultimately an Apple style move, regardless if it was for good or bad. A notification about the app would be a much better move in my mind.

  • Lewis

    Do you get a notification that it's been removed and why? Which apps was it?
    Do the apps just silently "disappear" or what?

    They need to be at least notifying people..

    • Deon

      I agree. If an app is bad and collects user's data maliciously, etc. then I could see Google protecting us and removing it remotely, but at the very least a notification that they're doing it and why they're doing it would be nice. Or maybe a prompt on the phone saying "Google would like to uninstall the following application for the following reasons, may we continue?" allowing the user to make the final decision.

  • David

    This is a major violation of user rights. While I do love Google's approach to the Android Market, this clearly infringes on the basic principles of open software.

    I agree with Anonymeuse that a notification would have been the proper way to go about this. Here's why.

    This is analogous to a manufacturer breaking into a person's home, and stealing an object they manufactured from a person on the basis of the fact that said object is unsafe. Even if this is true, even if the object posed a deadly threat to said person, it is immoral conduct to take it from them without consent.

    While the Android EULA does allow Google to do this, clearly, I hold that it is a massive violation of user rights and that the mechanism should be altered to give the user a choice, rather than deciding for them.

    There is no mechanism to force you to send your car in if it is recalled and you are given due notice of its defects; there is simply your choice to release the manufacturer from their legal responsibilities if you do not.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      I don't really think the analogy is right here. The only thing being taken is the malicious app - in the case of home invasion, the manufacturer would have disturbed you and everyone around, would have caused damage, and would have seen the insides of your home - total invasion of privacy.

      Google only takes 1 thing - the malicious app, and does so by most likely having the Market check a special blacklist and uninstall, rather than proactively reaching into your phone.

  • bjordan

    Without the ability to turn remote app wipes off or opt-out this is bad.

    Saying "It's okay because they were protecting users" sounds like people who say, "I don't care if the government taps my phone. I'm not a criminal and if it helps them catch the bad guys it's okay by me".

    It's not THIS specific instance that's the problem. It's having the ability (WITH no opt-out for the user) that is.

    It opens up a whole list of issues outside of Google's control. For instance, courts ordering app removal due to copyright, DMCA, or any other reasons. Sure Google is great at fighting battle in court but still.

    It's MY device I'll control it, stay the hell off it. If I chose to take my own risk I will. I agree having this ability and even having it on by default is okay, but there needs to be the ability to "opt-out".

    I've been researching and can't tell if this is ONLY true for apps that you install from the official Google Android Market. If that's the case then it's not as bad considering there are OTHER market alternatives.

    If that's the case then the "opt-out" is install apps manually. If any one has any info on this I'd love to have the link.

    I still think Android is the best choice (for me personally) as far as "freedom" goes. If this only applies to apps from the official market this isn't as big a deal to me. However if this is for any app installed then it's bad bad bad bad ...

    • Aaron Gingrich

      Maybe it should be a choice... but that analogy wasn't a good one. When the government taps your phone, they're just creeping hardcore. When Google removes malicious apps, that's pretty harmless - especially considering how careless people are with their software. Just look at the number of anti-virus programs out there (and how often people get virus's and malware even when using AV software). In theory? Yes, people should be able to take care of themselves and nobody else should have to worry about it. But that's theory, not reality. The reality is people are stupid, and if they don't have somebody watching their back (at least, in extreme cases), then they'll eventually mess their stuff up and then blame the company that made it.

      • bjordan

        I agree that it should definitely be a choice. I also agree that having this in place is okay (and even needed) as long as it is a choice.

        For instance for my parents I'd want Google to protect them. Where as me and my tech friends, would rather take our own risk and be in full control.

        I also agree and see where my analogy was a bit of a stretch.

        I'm really interested to find out if this is only for apps installed through the official Google Market. If so then it's not nearly as big of a deal in my book.

        (great job with the blog as well. I follow several Android blogs, but probably AP the closest)

        • Aaron Gingrich

          Exactly! Different people need different levels of protection - but out of necessity, there has to be some minimum level of protection (although the option to disable would be nice).

          And thanks, we appreciate it =). We're growing at a great pace, thanks for the support!

  • Rick

    I completely disagree with your assessment of Google removing applications from phones. I would like to make a number of points.
    1) Just because Amazon and Apple do it, does not make it right. Microsoft does not, nor does Red Hat, IBM, Symbian, or any other O.S. developer I can think of.
    2) No matter what I have on my P.C, phone, Slate, or any other device, I don't want a third party to feel they have the right to snoop into my device, and see what is there, then remove it if they do not approve. This snacks of thought police, 1984 and George Orwell.
    3) As a developer, I can see this turning into an Apple style issue, where the software I developed clashes in some way with a Google based package (I create my own browser, instead of using Chrome). I enjoy the free market; this would reduce that market place.
    4) Lastly, one of the things I like about Google and Android is its openness. The removal of software by decree, removes that openness.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      If that was what Google was doing, I'd be with you. By your logic, the Army shouldn't have tanks because if they wanted to, they could drive through my house with it.

      Apple rejected apps that conflicted with their own software. As far as I'm aware, Google hasn't done that once. You're drawing parallels based on hypotheticals.

      • Rick

        PLease don't confuse tanks with Google. Google is a public company that has laws to obey. They also, as a company have an objective to look after their own interests first. We as consumers, balance those interests with our own needs and wants. We do this with our chequebook. That is the the free market place works. Tanks are an extention of the government, and depending on the political faction of the government, the tanks could run through the streets if desired (China, Rowanda, Kent State, etc) or be there for protection only (Canada)

        • Aaron Gingrich

          It was an analogy, and regardless, it still fits - the point was that just because they can do something doesn't mean they will.

          Blocking apps isn't in their best interest. Their business model is built on openness, and it's worked pretty damn well for them so far.

  • Rick

    My worry is the slippery slope. As long as a company (Google, Apple, and Amazon) has the ability to delete an app they feel is "inappropriate", who knows where it will end. This is after all, how the removal of civil rights begins.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      I agree that it's a (very) slippery slope... I just trust Google enough that I don't think they'll overdo it.

      • Rick

        I hope your right. But I am too old, and have seen to many companies "change direction" to have your faith.

    • TJ

      If you read TFA, you see that someone purposely made an app that completely misrepresented itself as a way to say "Google sux, iphone is the rulz!" Because Apple protects its users. The app didn't say this, but the company basically wanted to know how easy it would be to get people to install an app that didn't do what they wanted it to do.

      They then pulled the app (that effectively did nothing) from the market. Google then pulled the app from peoples phones as a way to say "Even if we did have a security concern, we can fix it easily."

      I think it would have been MUCH more useful a test if the company tried to make a flashlight app (or whatever) that requested permission.INTERNET among other things.
      That would have been an effective test.

      An app that lies about what it does & most people deleting it within a few minutes of trying it is a useless test.

  • http://vaelek.com Vaelek

    The removal is done via a special gtalk message. gtalk connects whether you know it or not when doing things in the Market. It is used when authorizing app purchases, and has special messages it listens for. One of these messages is the remote removal command. The Market does not check for blacklisted apps, rather it does "reach inside your phone" as one commented. From the code (which I have removed in my own custom version), it provides no notification that it is doing anything of the sort. At the very least, if this is going to be in there, it needs to A) provide a user selectable option to disable it should one choose and B) provide some sort of notification that it is about to or has removed something.

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