It seems that the seemingly innocuous Android 4.4.2 update is putting Google
under a bit of heat. The Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF, one of the more popular digital rights advocacy groups in the US, is taking Google to task for removing the possibility of accessing the App Ops feature.

The Android platform implements a system that grants apps permissions only for the things they need to use and nothing more, at least in theory. These permissions are granted in bulk when an app is installed. App Ops, whose existence was leaked in Android 4.3, would allow users to control each and every bit of permission that an app uses without affecting other permissions in the same app. Google has actually tried hiding it in Android 4.4 but developers have also found a way to restore access again. With the Android 4.4.2 update, however, that access is completely gone.

The EFF bemoans this as an alarming loss in the fight against privacy issues on Android. For its part, Google says that App Ops was never meant for public eyes and it is now pulling out something that was simply accidentally revealed. The EFF, naturally, doesn’t buy that excuse and thinks that Google should reinstate the feature and also improve it to show its commitment to protecting users’ privacy.

The situation isn’t clear cut, however. On the one hand, given the current Android platform implementation and developer practices, simply allowing users to turn of permissions could cause problems for apps that weren’t designed to adjust to that situation. The EFF suggests that the operating system can, instead, offer up dummy values. On the other hand, the EFF does have a point about apps that use more permissions than necessary, that could lead to rather malicious activity, like a recent case of a popular flashlight app. But then again, given how regular users breeze through app installations, the the number of users diving into App Ops might not be that high.

SOURCE: Electronic Frontier Foundation

  • Lampshade

    Is it really surprising that this feature was pulled? The Play Store would have probably faded away from existence if it weren’t for ad-supported “free” apps. These apps generally rely on features like network communications for ad content. If every user has the option to turn off the network comms per, and therefore the ads, then app makers will likely stop bringing those apps to the store.

    Yes, there are some bad apps that use networks comms for some features that harm privacy, but for every one of those, there are many thousands that use it for ads (and for being free to users). Google isn’t stupid. Despite the way it looks at times, Google doesn’t have some evil desire to destroy everyone’s privacy. They are a business, though. They understand that they won’t get anywhere if the Play Store stops getting any new free apps because a feature they allowed to exist in the the OS. Will it allow bad things to happen that could have been prevented? Absolutely. If you stop breathing, you might be able to prevent the transmission of any airborne illness. Try it, and see how long you last, though. App Ops is a cool feature, but keeping it around is pretty much the same type of terrible strategy for Google.

  • Rik Savage

    Why has google removed its key privacy feature? Apps have access to sensative data like phone records without my knowledge. How can I prevent this data from being transfered? Our privacy is taking a backseat to preying eyes, rogue government agencies spying on it citizens, and those greedy people who expect us to dish out cash everytime I want to play a game. Well they prefer to call it microtransactions but we all know its really just another way to scam us. Yes I agree that developers need to be paid for their hard work but whenever I buy a game or software, I will not pay additional fees just to use it. Thats insane. Google should grant users of the Android OS to have root access and therefor be allowed to modify the permissions however we see fit.

  • LoveACbutYouGuysNeedAnEditor

    turn of permissions = turn off permissions

    installations, the the number = installations, the number