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.
Oh my, Google’s little accident places them in quite a tough spot. They certainly don’t want to enable users to block collection while still running the apps since this could block google’s own data collection from apps as well…
The EFF has framed the issue extremely well; There’s no way google can come away looking like a good guy unless they give users back the privacy controls.
Edited 2013-12-13 16:34 UTC