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