Over 50 organizations including the Privacy International, Digital Rights Foundation, DuckDuckGo, and Electronic Frontier Foundation have written an open letter to Alphabet and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai about exploitive pre-installed bloatware on Android devices and how they pose a privacy risk to consumers.[…]
Thus, the group wants Google to make some changes to how Android handles pre-installed apps a.k.a bloatware. They want the company to provide users with the ability to permanently uninstall all pre-installed apps on their devices. While some pre-loaded apps can be disabled on Android devices, they continue to run some background processes which makes disabling them a moot point.
The open letter requests Google to ensure that pre-installed apps go through the same scrutiny as all the apps listed on the Google Play Store. They also want all pre-installed apps to be updated through Google Play even if the device does not have a user logged into it. Google should also not certify devices on privacy grounds if it detects that an OEM is trying to exploit users’ privacy and their data.
With antitrust regulators from both the EU and the US breathing down their necks, I highly doubt Google will do what this open letter asks of them.
And let’s face it – you can’t on the one hand lament Google’s control over Android, while on the other hand ask that they use said control against parties you happen to dislike. I hate bloatware as much as anyone else, but I’d be a massive hypocrite if, after years of advocating for user freedom when it comes to smartphones, computers, and other devices, I would turn around and ask Google to lock down Android devices even more to Google Play just because I happen to think carriers are the scum of the earth.
Google likely won’t do it, not because it’s an excess of control, but because it will hurt their business.
As for antitrust concerns, were Google interested, it could be spun as a way to increase competition – they’ll only certify the core OS as “Android”, everything else is a removable, modular and replaceable component.
Keeping things fully removable would actually make it easier to switch to an alternative app ecosystem – which is why it won’t happen.
Every OS should allow every app to be uninstalled. I can only think of a few possible exceptions:
1) The app is actually not just an app but contains something that is needed for the functionality of the device. Such apps shouldn’t exist in this form and instead should be split into a firmware/driver part and an uninstallable app part. There should also be a way to disable the firmware/driver part
2) The OS is included with a device and the device manufacturer is contractually obligated to include some app. This should happen very rarely and should be clearly indicated to the buyer before the sale
3) A “browser to download a better browser”-scenario.
4) Corporate mobile device management or parental controls that allow the actual owner of the device instead of the user of the device to control the software
The worst bloatware I ‘ve seen is a Carrier Services thing that Google themselves add to some phones and which you cannot uninstall because Play Services will re-install it. It causes all kinds of weird behaviour in Android phones that have it.
That strikes me as an extremely filmsy rationale for Google to not address the issue. That reasoning only makes sense to me if you don’t consider the ability to install bundled apps as a form of “user freedom,” and if you treat ANY/ALL actions by Google to assert control over their mobile platform as equally negative, regardless of the motivations & end results (it also seems like you’re trying to dismiss opposition to bloatware as being solely motivated by emotionally-driven bias against carriers).
Personally, I see giving end users the ability to remove apps that they previously couldn’t as a pretty clear form of user freedom, and the polar opposite of “locking down”; I see no reason to object to Google asserting control over Android in ways that actually benefit users of the platform, as opposed to using their control of the platform for anti-competitive purposes.