/ Technology

You don’t control your smartphone, get used to it

Google Android logo

Google last week remotely accessed thousands of Android smartphones and deleted apps that its users had downloaded – apps they owned, running on a device they bought, with cash they (probably) earned.

Scandalous! Well, actually I’ve left out a rather important bit of information – the apps were infected with a malicious virus that had the potential to steal personal data. Not so scandalous?

Big Brother is watching

Google’s latest Big Brother action raises a question that’s been brewing on the internet for a while now – ‘is it good that companies have ultimate control over the software running on our devices, and not us?’

This question was brought into even sharper focus in July 2009, when Amazon took a leaf (quite literally) out of George Orwell’s book and deleted his ‘1984’ novel from thousands of Kindles, without telling their owners.

To make it worse, Amazon’s excuse was far less noble than Google’s – it just ‘forgot’ that it didn’t own the rights to the book.

In Google we (have to) trust

While the philosophy of having ultimate control over your own software (which is already being expounded by angry commentators on Google’s blog) is compelling, it’s not very practical.

The only way it would make sense to have control is if you’d be happy to take 100% responsibility for avoiding malicious attacks on your smartphone.

Though if you really were prepared to take that responsibility then I assume you’d do nothing but tut disapprovingly when your child downloaded the wrong ‘Funny Kittens’ app, leading to a bombardment of texts extolling the benefits of herbal Viagra?

Companies should ultimately have the power to do what Google did last week and protect those of us who aren’t tech savvy and have fallen victim to hackers and scammers. However, that doesn’t mean Google and Amazon should be let off the hook.

Knock before you enter

It’s all about respect. If your house has just been burgled, the police don’t silently crawl through your window in the middle of the night, dust for fingerprints, and leave a post-it on your door.

So if Google or Amazon want to intrude onto your device – for whatever reason – they need to clearly explain what they are doing and why they’re doing it, before they do it.

The second thing is that the above two cases shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Amazon obviously needs to make sure it owns something before giving it away, and if it’s been stupid enough to break such an elementary rule then it should probably pay the costs and let people keep what they bought. Afterall, Orwell fans may not have shelled out £150 for a Kindle in the first place if they knew Big Brother really was watching.

As for Google, for two years it’s cheerfully ignored anyone pointing out the security risks of an unmoderated apps market. It was remarkably left to a blogger to inform the company of last week’s malware attack.

Why not just exercise some level of control over what appears on your app store Google? Then you won’t have to waste time and money fixing everyone’s phones when the downright inevitable happens.

Comments
Member

I trust Google more than I trust Microsoft :/

Its still wrong, But better than having Your details & contacts sent to hackers & scammers.

Although if Big Apps were made by one person, Then it would be easier to get Apps that were real,

I.E. there’s an TFL App only for Apple I-Phones, Were it should be mae by TFL, Then it could be sold to all mobile phones that can access/buy apps, Rather than some con person making one.

Member
Sergey Brin says:
10 March 2011

liked your burglary analogy chris…

oh and nice beard too…

say, what are you doing later?

Member

Scott: Can I ask why you trust Google over Microsoft? Microsoft’s business model is simple – it wants to squeeze as much money out of you as it possibly can. Google’s is different – it wants to squeeze as much information out of you as it possibly can (in order to sell to advertisers). I’m not saying we should trust Microsoft over Google (afterall Microsoft has already been found guilty of anti-competitive behaviour), but given the nature of ‘the big G’s’ business, and the necessary secrecy surrounding how its search algorithms work, I think it’s probably easier for Google to abuse our trust – and get away with it – than it is for Microsoft (in fact it may already be happening http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12540731).

Sergey: Glad you like the analogy (and yes, I agree my beard is very nice), but what do you think of the issue? Surely you of all people would have an opinion on this??

Member

I have an HTC desire Z and it will be my first and last Android phone.

Yes I am concerned about the way that the phones are tracked, but that has yet to impact on me. What grates is the fact that the phone is full of bugs!!

Signal keeps dropping out, I rarely receive text messages, the battery life is rubbish, the browser is useless and always crashing, the music player barely plays louder than a gramaphone, the screen is poor and responds slowly

More reasons than tracking to ditch the Android phone. I may even take it back to carphone warehouse as its not serving its purpose of being, y’know, a phone?

Absolute ***£*$()£(

🙂

Member

That doesn’t sound like an HTC Desire to me – they’re meant to be the top dog of Android phones. But note, many of your problems aren’t anything to do with the Android software, but the phone itself. Though you may have a dud. I’d be happy to take it off your hands 🙂

Member

Speaking of HTC, I have the sensation xe. Out of the blue my alarm clock settings etc just disappeared! Have searched everywhere! Problem is original alarms still turn on!!! Does any one know how to get the original setting back, as it did many other things! please help!