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.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton
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