Print 28 comment(s) - last by MGSsancho.. on Jun 28 at 3:50 AM

Google is working to be transparent about why it remotely removes apps from its phones in the rare cases it does.
Kills a questionable app that appears to have been a security application, carefully explains actions

Google, like Apple, has implemented a system on its Android smartphone operating system that can remotely delete apps when necessary.  The news of this "kill switch" leaked well over a year ago, but Google has hardly used it. 

This week Google announced that it had recently killed some apps remotely, perhaps for the first time.  The company explains in a blog post:

Every now and then, we remove applications from Android Market due to violations of our Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement or Content Policy. In cases where users may have installed a malicious application that poses a threat, we’ve also developed technologies and processes to remotely remove an installed application from devices. If an application is removed in this way, users will receive a notification on their phone.

Apparently, the apps it removed were the work of a security researcher and not truly dangerous.  The apps were distributed on the Android market and purposefully misrepresented themselves, but were not designed to be truly dangerous -- they gained no "resources beyond permission.INTERNET."

The researcher eventually removed that apps from the market (likely when his study was complete) and Google executed a remote kill on the instances of the two apps that still remained on users' phones.

Google elaborates:

The remote application removal feature is one of many security controls Android possesses to help protect users from malicious applications. In case of an emergency, a dangerous application could be removed from active circulation in a rapid and scalable manner to prevent further exposure to users. While we hope to not have to use it, we know that we have the capability to take swift action on behalf of users’ safety when needed.
This remote removal functionality — along with Android’s unique Application Sandbox and Permissions model, Over-The-Air update system, centralized Market, developer registrations, user-submitted ratings, and application flagging — provides a powerful security advantage to help protect Android users in our open environment.

While Google has the right to manage its own business, it's certainly refreshing to see that it goes the extra mile in communicating and being so transparent about explaining why its reasoning behind executing what might otherwise be a controversial feature, when it does. 

Much of the criticism Apple's iPhone app rejections generated was due to the fact that they were poorly explained.  It looks like Google is intent on maintaining a high level of transparency, something which its customers will surely appreciate.

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A step in the right direction, but...
By amanojaku on 6/25/2010 10:27:22 AM , Rating: 5
A remote kill is still a remote kill. If I want the app I have to go get it, install it, and watch you remove it again. How about a remote "acknowledge" feature? I launch the app and I get a notification that it's potentially a threat, so you make me hit an accept button. If the app is already running you send the notification, and maybe even pause the app (has a different effect on different apps, so that will be tricky to implement broadly). It's my device, I should be able run anything I want. It's not like you don't provide a terms of service that spells out my liability when things go wrong.

By Homerboy on 6/25/2010 10:36:02 AM , Rating: 5
I agree on some levels... but on other levels I don't.
One of the reasons for the kill switch is because the app itself violates Google/Android's T&Cs of distribution via their app store. The program uses copyrighted material(s), mis-represents itself etc etc... think of it as a "mandatory recall".

RE: A step in the right direction, but...
By quiksilvr on 6/25/2010 11:22:57 AM , Rating: 3
It's more of a "legal insurance". Suppose your phone got a virus despite getting an acknowledgment but still file charges? You could claim you never got the warning because the app stopped it from coming through and blame Google for letting this program through and compromising your security.

RE: A step in the right direction, but...
By amanojaku on 6/25/2010 11:38:17 AM , Rating: 3
Basically, you're saying smartphones, which are really mobile PCs, are going to have the same challenges that PCs (that includes Macs, too!) had over the last 30 years. So you'll have to buy Symmantec Anti-Virus Mobile Edition, install script blockers, etc... These aren't ROM devices, so they CAN get viruses. No remote kill option is going to stop that.

RE: A step in the right direction, but...
By omnicronx on 6/25/2010 12:02:53 PM , Rating: 2
I think you are missing the point, regardless if ' No remote kill option is going to stop that', there are still most likely legal obligations involved. If there was an App that actually could do damage, they could easily be liable. The fact that you don't agree with it is irrelevant, it makes business sense and unfortunately is part of the world we live in.

At least they are being transparent about it, but I think rules like these will exist for pretty much any app store regardless of device. You want assurance that your app won't be remotely killed, use another way to get your apps. Google has been pretty good in my opinion, and they have yet to actually kill something that did not make sense, well aside from the tethering apps in which the carriers forced them.(and were only removed for the carriers who asked if I remember correctly)

RE: A step in the right direction, but...
By reader1 on 6/25/10, Rating: -1
By Iaiken on 6/25/2010 12:55:38 PM , Rating: 5
What's unfortunate is how the Windows monopoly prevented computers from advancing to closed platforms until now.

I don't see that as unfortunate at all. Open platforms will survive (and flourish) for as long as the law allows them. The modern Apple PC (that's right, PEE CEE) has been around for 6 years now and failed to make any significant headway. That alone should tell you that the market for expensive closed platforms is a niche and that consumers don't think Apple PC's are a good enough improvement over Windows PC to warrant the cost.

To quote a friend of mine:

"Buying an Apple is like marrying a hot looking chick who turns out to be a temperamental bitch on the inside. I'm fed up with it's BS and now I want to divorce it and to start dating again."

Honestly, I couldn't have said it better myself after working to keep my wifes Core 2 Duo iMac running over the course of this year. She's already told me that when it comes time to replace it, she wants me to build her a Windows 7 machine. Ouch Apple, right in the profit margins...

By MGSsancho on 6/28/2010 3:50:25 AM , Rating: 2
What you mean is how the Microsoft monopoly has prevented faster advancement in technology in the desktop area. Evidence of this is the rapid speed of development in the last 6 years in mobile phones where increased competition speared the progress of features and capabilities. Today there are very open mobile/desktop/console platforms, very closed and various platforms in-between.

Now for my opinion; competition is what drives the market regardless of open/closed business models in the IT industry.

RE: A step in the right direction, but...
By reader1 on 6/25/10, Rating: -1
By KayDat on 6/25/2010 12:18:33 PM , Rating: 4
That's true, which is why China screening the Internet is a lot smarter. It's only a matter of time before a user sues their ISP or government for malicious content on Internet. China is wisely protecting users and themselves with a censorship process. Countries such as Australia and South Korea understand this is the best for their country as well. USA will eventually have a censorship process too.

RE: A step in the right direction, but...
By amanojaku on 6/25/2010 1:00:00 PM , Rating: 2
Please, don't reply to my posts. Every time you write something I consider the fact that we share a similar gene pool. And I die a little inside.

By Skeptilence on 6/26/2010 8:22:50 AM , Rating: 2
That's no way to talk to your mother!

By wvh on 6/26/2010 11:37:11 AM , Rating: 2
The issue here is that for technical users a kill function is offensive, but most people aren't very technical. It makes sense to remove malware from ignorant users' phones lest they unknowingly be part of a spammer network.

I am a security professional and personally I can't stand the thought of a company or government having access to my hardware. Therefore I think it would make sense to have this kill switch on by default but with the possibility to disable it – in some elaborate way – for power users. People should have the choice, but only if they actually have considered the pros and cons and are aware of the dangers so they can make an informed choice.

This is ridiculous!
By JackBurton on 6/25/2010 10:55:00 AM , Rating: 2
This is ridiculous and a blatant abuse of power on Apple's part. Steve Jobs is just a control freak and Apple fanboys just keep supporting Apple not matter what they do. I guess that's why they call them fanboys.

Oh wait, this isn't about the iPhone? Never mind then.

RE: This is ridiculous!
By Iaiken on 6/25/2010 11:24:15 AM , Rating: 3
This is required at some level for Google to protect itself in the overly aggressive copyrighted world we live in.

Google has positioned itself to be able to adhere to copyright law. This allows them to not only cease the deployment of copyrighted material, but allows them to essentially claw back those materials that have been distributed in violation of copyright.

Further, they are able to remove apps that pose a security threat to their users. Those which misrepresent themselves or would offend their customers (think obscene media masquerading as a game or viruses that try to steal all your personal data).

The most important part of this is the level of transparency with which Google conducts this messy business.

It is unfortunate, but with such an open platform, there still must be some limits. As these phones become more capable, you WILL see things like apps that get hijacked and replaced with data farmers, or mobile porn file servers or any number of things that people haven't even thought up yet.

These phones are consumer electronics and the consumer expects them to be like the other consumer electronics in their life. They expect them to just work, without them having to mess around with it, force-kill apps, uninstall viruses or blank it and restore it to the vendors default. Why? Because John Q. Yokel doesn't have a f%^$ing clue in his head how to do any of that.

RE: This is ridiculous!
By Lazarus Dark on 6/25/2010 7:49:06 PM , Rating: 2
I'm thinking this is all good for apps on the Android Market. But if I understand correctly, you can still install apps that aren't on the Market, right? So, Google only controls the Android Market, that is thiers and they SHOULD take responsibility for those apps. But you should still be able to install any other apps you want, so there is no restriction on you doing what you want with the phone. I am typically a hyper-paranoid, but I am okay with Googles stance on this.

By PAPutzback on 6/25/2010 10:46:46 AM , Rating: 2
They could brick a lot of phones if they went and tried to kill apps tied to superuser and did it wrong.

By etshea on 6/25/2010 11:32:02 AM , Rating: 2
You can install apps without the Market Place. Apple forces the App store. Atleast there is a alternitive for Android users.

By twidlerofthumbs on 6/25/2010 6:00:48 PM , Rating: 2
The point of the remote kill on mobile devices is many fold but the underlying reason is much more serious than on most peoples desktop computers.

Yes it can be used to thwart copyright violations, yes it can be used to quell a rogue application destroying your phone, and yes it can help Google not get sued.

But we are dealing with a telecommunications device that the majority of Americans use as their exclusive phone. I am not talking about androids there but cell phones in general.
As such due to certain federal mandates on emergency communication protocols the countries cellular networks must be able to continue to operate in a reasonable manner at all times.

Now say there is an application that doesn’t destroy the phone but spreads using modern smart phone’s features and eventually attack the very network that the phones run on.
I don’t know about you but if I were going to plan an attack on a country with any magnitude. One of the first things I would want to do from a strategic standpoint is disable or at the very least cripple communications.

It’s not like remote kill systems are not all around us, and have been for tens of years, in one form or another. It is something that we will have to live with.

In this age of people expecting companies and governments to take responsibility for their individual stupidity this should be something welcomed with open arms, when used responsibly, be it Google, apple or whoever implements it.

I simply give Google kudos for being so straight forward with it’s purpose and usage and thank them for being responsible enough to watch the ignorant majority's backs.

By Kyanzes on 6/27/2010 11:40:17 AM , Rating: 2
"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever."

Google: No porn, piracy on Android Market
By reader1 on 6/25/10, Rating: -1
By themaster08 on 6/25/2010 11:32:35 AM , Rating: 2
RE: Google: No porn, piracy on Android Market
By etshea on 6/25/2010 11:44:54 AM , Rating: 5
The market place is controlled but Android users can choose to get Apps from other sources.

RE: Google: No porn, piracy on Android Market
By reader1 on 6/25/10, Rating: -1
RE: Google: No porn, piracy on Android Market
By Iaiken on 6/25/2010 12:41:46 PM , Rating: 2
Very few developers are going to distribute their apps outside of Android Market. Developers who choose not to go through the market will struggle to get their product noticed and will be lucky to make a profit.

Way to think in absolutes. I make my apps available from my website as well as through the Google marketplace. Hell, you can get many of the free apps available on the Google market directly from the developer if you so choose.

Carriers also have the ability to block the installation of outside apps on Android phones. AT&T has already done this on the HTC Aria and Dell Aero.

These are agreements between the makers of those specific phones and has nothing to do with Android as an OS. If you want to do business with AT&T, you do business on their terms. Don't like it? Switch carriers.

Lastly, stop being such a absolutist pleb.

RE: Google: No porn, piracy on Android Market
By reader1 on 6/25/10, Rating: -1
RE: Google: No porn, piracy on Android Market
By Iaiken on 6/25/2010 1:42:29 PM , Rating: 2
You proved my point. You would never distribute your app only through your website. It would be suicidal.

No, you ignored my point.

Just as I would not only distribute through my website, I wouldn't only distribute exclusively through the Android market either. This lets me bring recruit people from the community as testers for versions and new apps that are not yet available on the marketplace.

My site generates enough traffic to pay for my whole server rental through adds. This allows me to host not only my droid site, but hobby websites, a mumble server, etc for free.

Developers are not at all like users. We're sophisticated and many of us are professionals who do droid work on the side just for the hell of it (because it gives me one hell of a resume).

One of my next projects is an Android client for the e107 forum engine to make accessing several of these forums from my phone easier. Why? Because using the a mobile browser to check the various forums I host is a pain in arse.

Thankfully, the gents over at Mumble are writing a free client (for Android and iPhone) so that I can log into and administer my mumble server from my phone. Teleconferencing with entire groups of my friends any time for free. Holy crap!

Sorry, but for me there is a lot more to my Android than turn-by-turn instructions and Pandora.

By Obujuwami on 6/25/2010 4:13:08 PM , Rating: 5

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