Google removes privacy feature from Android mobile software

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Dec 13, 2013 4:43pm EST

The Google signage is seen at the company's headquarters in New York January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The Google signage is seen at the company's headquarters in New York January 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc has removed an experimental privacy feature from its Android mobile software that had allowed users to block apps from collecting personal information such as address book data and a user's location.

The change means that owners of smartphones using Android 4.4.2, the latest version of the world's most popular operating system for mobile devices released this week, must provide access to their personal data in order to use certain apps.

A company spokesman said the feature had been included by accident in Android 4.3, the version released last summer.

"We are suspicious of this explanation, and do not think that it in any way justifies removing the feature rather than improving it," said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The digital rights website first publicized the change in a blog post on Friday.

Android users who wish to retain the privacy controls by not upgrading to Android 4.4.2 could be vulnerable to security risks, Eckersley said. "For the time being, users will need to chose between either privacy or security on the Android devices, but not both."

Many third-party apps for Android devices, such as music-identifying service Shazam and popular smartphone flashlight apps, require access to personal information that does not always have an obvious connection to the app's functionality, such as phone call information and location data.

The privacy feature allowed users to pick and choose which personal data a third-party app can collect, Eckersley said. Users had to install a special Apps Ops Launcher software, which was created by another company, in order to access the hidden privacy controls.

Android software was loaded on 81 percent of all smartphones shipped worldwide in the third quarter, according to industry research firm IDC. Apple Inc's iOS, the software used on the iPhone, had 12.9 percent market share.

Privacy has become an increasingly important issue as smartphones, which are loaded with consumers' personal information, become the primary computing device for many consumers. In November Google agreed to pay a $17 million fine to settle allegations that it secretly tracked Web users by placing special digital files on the Web browsers of their smartphones.

(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Richard Chang)

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Comments (13)
DurtBagg wrote:
TRUST GOOGLE?

Android attacks now outpace all other mobile platforms, says McAfee – http://tinyurl.com/42ry2p6

Study: 99% of Android devices vulnerable to attack
Bad news for Android users! A study shows that 99 percent of Android devices are vulnerable to a security attack which allows hackers to access their Twitter, Facebook, or Google accounts. — http://tinyurl.com/6fbzuyl

Why iOS is safer than Android
The relative vulnerability of Android vs. iOS comes down to the level of control the vendors have over products and the marketplace for development and distribution of apps. – http://goo.gl/fEqd7

Then there’s Chrome, another unsafe google product: The recent news that someone using your computer can see all of your passwords stored in Chrome with a few clicks — http://goo.gl/tgHi7c

Dec 13, 2013 8:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
DurtBagg wrote:
TRUST GOOGLE?

Android attacks now outpace all other mobile platforms, says McAfee – http://tinyurl.com/42ry2p6

Study: 99% of Android devices vulnerable to attack
Bad news for Android users! A study shows that 99 percent of Android devices are vulnerable to a security attack which allows hackers to access their Twitter, Facebook, or Google accounts. — http://tinyurl.com/6fbzuyl

Why iOS is safer than Android
The relative vulnerability of Android vs. iOS comes down to the level of control the vendors have over products and the marketplace for development and distribution of apps. – http://goo.gl/fEqd7

Then there’s Chrome, another unsafe google product: The recent news that someone using your computer can see all of your passwords stored in Chrome with a few clicks — http://goo.gl/tgHi7c

Dec 13, 2013 8:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
chekovmerlin wrote:
We’re worried about the NSA? Try Google for spying or it’s people who have billions of apps and are just waiting to follow you. sheesh!

Dec 13, 2013 8:22pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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