Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 13th Dec 2013 15:40 UTC

Yesterday, we published a blog post lauding an extremely important app privacy feature that was added in Android 4.3. That feature allows users to install apps while preventing the app from collecting sensitive data like the user's location or address book.

After we published the post, several people contacted us to say that the feature had actually been removed in Android 4.4.2, which was released earlier this week. Today, we installed that update to our test device, and can confirm that the App Ops privacy feature that we were excited about yesterday is in fact now gone.

If there's one thing that needs some serious love in Android, it's the application permissions. I carefully look at them every time I install an application, but I'm guessing most people don't. While there's only so much stupidity technology can solve, Android's application permissions are, indeed, quite overwhelming at times. I'm not a particular fan of modal dialogs every time an application needs permission for something (the iOS way) either, so I'm not sure how this can be addressed in a user-friendly way.

App Ops seemed like a decent compromise that allowed for lots of finetuning of permissions, per application. Luckily, I'm using a custom ROM that re-enables it, Google be damned. Google claims App Ops may break some applications - well, that's not really any of my concern. If an application breaks because I do not give it permission to find out if I'm on the toilet or not - there's always an uninstall button.

So, Google better have some serious improvement in mind for application permissions, or they're just making sure regular users don't get into the habit of blocking Google's data collection. I hope the former, but I'm reasonably sure it's the latter.

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Permissions handling in Firefox OS
by crystall on Fri 13th Dec 2013 18:23 UTC
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disclaimer: I work for Mozilla

While working on Firefox OS I always found it's permissions model far more reasonable than Android's. The basic idea (which is shared by WP as another poster mentioned above) is that permissions are granted only when actually needed by the app and the user is prompted at that time with a (potentially helpful) message [1]. While this doesn't fix the social problems associated with any click-through approaches it gives you the ability to have an app do only what you want it to do. The simplest example is something like a camera app which needs permission to write pictures to the SD-card and also to use geolocation. While I'm OK with saving pictures to the SD-card I'm not OK with having them tagged with the coordinates were they were taken so I usually forbid it from using geolocation services. This scenario - which I use every day on my FxOS phone - is simply not possible in Android's model.

Android's model also has a completely idiotic side-effect: applications are not designed to have optional features depending on the permissions they're granted: it's all or nothing. So if feature X which you'll never use needs permission Y you're still forced to give that particular permission to the app and this automatically grows your security perimeter even if you're not using that feature.


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