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Google Remotely Deletes Apps on Android Phones

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 52 comments

Google has the ability to remotely remove applications from Android devices and yesterday the company did just that.

In 2008, a hacker discovered that Apple could remotely uninstall apps from iPhones after they'd been paid for and installed. Just last year, Amazon remotely removed copies of 1984 from customers' Kindles. It raised eyebrows when we found out Apple could do it and it caused uproar when Amazon actually did it (without saying anything to paying customers). So how will people feel now that it's Google?

Google today announced that it has remotely removed two Android applications from users' phones. The applications in question were developed by a security researcher for research purposes and Google says they intentionally misrepresented their purpose in order to encourage user downloads. The apps were never designed to be used maliciously, and did not have permission to access private data — or system resources beyond permission.INTERNET. In fact, Google said the apps were pretty useless, and most people uninstalled it soon after the downloaded it, anyway.

The developer responsible for the applications is said to have voluntarily removed the apps from the Android Market Place, but Google made the decision to remotely remove the applications from users' phones "to complete the clean up."

Android Security Lead, Rich Cannings, said the remote application removal tool is a security measure to protect against malicious applications and while they, "hope to not have to use it," they know they can take swift action on behalf of their users' safety if they need to.

"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," Cannings finished.

Check out his full post on the Android Developers Blog.

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Top Comments
  • 29 Hide
    thrust2night , June 25, 2010 4:48 PM
    "In fact, Google said the apps were pretty useless, and most people uninstalled it soon after the downloaded it, anyway."

    It's not about apps being useless it's about not removing anything from a user's phone without consent. Key word here being consent which any company should learn to ask.
  • 28 Hide
    malekith2k5 , June 25, 2010 4:59 PM
    borisof007What I'm trying to say I guess is do you have to make your garbage man ask you first before he takes your garbage can?

    No but if the garbage man came into my house without permission and took my garbage I'd be pretty pissed. This is what Google is doing and it is wrong regardless of the app.
  • 19 Hide
    NapoleonDK , June 25, 2010 5:04 PM
    I fail... I just re-read the article. Shame on me for skimming it!
    malekith2k5No but if the garbage man came into my house without permission and took my garbage I'd be pretty pissed.
    +1

    I am against remote-uninstallation of any kind. If I downloaded the app, it's because I WANTED IT. If it's not what I expected, I WILL DELETE IT ON MY OWN. KTHXBAI.

Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , June 25, 2010 4:47 PM
    So that's what happened to my OTA froyo update? :-)
  • 29 Hide
    thrust2night , June 25, 2010 4:48 PM
    "In fact, Google said the apps were pretty useless, and most people uninstalled it soon after the downloaded it, anyway."

    It's not about apps being useless it's about not removing anything from a user's phone without consent. Key word here being consent which any company should learn to ask.
  • 15 Hide
    shovenose , June 25, 2010 4:49 PM
    wow-thats a mean thing to do. especially to paying customers
  • 15 Hide
    Marco925 , June 25, 2010 4:49 PM
    Big Brothers of today. Nuff Said.
  • 28 Hide
    malekith2k5 , June 25, 2010 4:59 PM
    borisof007What I'm trying to say I guess is do you have to make your garbage man ask you first before he takes your garbage can?

    No but if the garbage man came into my house without permission and took my garbage I'd be pretty pissed. This is what Google is doing and it is wrong regardless of the app.
  • -4 Hide
    NapoleonDK , June 25, 2010 4:59 PM
    I think the difference here, is Amazon removed an ebook that somebody purchased, while Google removed a total spam-app that was useless and cost the consumer nothing.

    Yes, I am rather skeptical of some of Google's practices. I don't like how they want to store all my info and use it to provide targeted advertising. But, I can appreciate how Google might want to protect their users from a developer attempting to misuse the app store for who knows what.

    I do think that the consumer needs to be much more picky about which apps they install. The people who get their information stolen are the same people responsible for making their information available in the first place.
  • 12 Hide
    hellwig , June 25, 2010 5:01 PM
    Yeah, just like with Amazon, this sets a bad precedent. Send the user an alert that their app has been "recalled", and present them with an option to remove it immediately. Also, in the marketplace or app listing, mark the app as recalled (in case the user dismisses the first warning). However, nothing should be removed without user consent unless it is so malscious as to be causing actual harm to the customer.

    "That poker game you downloaded has been sending virus emails to everyone in your contacts list, so we disabled it"

    not Apple-style: "We didn't see a point to it personally, so we made the choice for you and removed it."
  • 19 Hide
    NapoleonDK , June 25, 2010 5:04 PM
    I fail... I just re-read the article. Shame on me for skimming it!
    malekith2k5No but if the garbage man came into my house without permission and took my garbage I'd be pretty pissed.
    +1

    I am against remote-uninstallation of any kind. If I downloaded the app, it's because I WANTED IT. If it's not what I expected, I WILL DELETE IT ON MY OWN. KTHXBAI.

  • 15 Hide
    figgus , June 25, 2010 5:06 PM
    malekith2k5No but if the garbage man came into my house without permission and took my garbage I'd be pretty pissed. This is what Google is doing and it is wrong regardless of the app.

    Exactly. There is a difference between emptying the can at the curb and breaking into my locked house to get that trash...
  • -7 Hide
    calmstateofmind , June 25, 2010 5:09 PM
    As long as the apps were free I don't really see a problem here. Regardless of if the app was useful or not, if the creator wants to withdraw their free app then I believe that's their right to do so.

    Although, if some virus does reach my phone the chances of anybody "remotely removing" it would seem a bit challenging if its already a brick...
  • 4 Hide
    NapoleonDK , June 25, 2010 5:10 PM
    hellwigSend the user an alert that their app has been "recalled"
    I like this. It could be easily integrated into the app market, right were they say "Update Available". Make it say "Recalled" or "Malicious". I agree with your Poker game analogy as well, however, doesn't Google scan through apps that are uploaded? I would imagine apps need to be approved somewhere along the line...
  • -7 Hide
    israil , June 25, 2010 5:13 PM
    as long as Google sticks to their "Don't be evil" motto, I trust them to remove malicious content from my device. I'm sure they realize that at least 85% of smartphone users aren't smart enough to uninstall an app themselves.
  • -6 Hide
    zaznet , June 25, 2010 5:14 PM
    malekith2k5No but if the garbage man came into my house without permission and took my garbage I'd be pretty pissed. This is what Google is doing and it is wrong regardless of the app.


    Saving me the trip to through the back to the dumpster AND preventing wife-nag reminders to take out the trash. I'd likely tip him! :) 

    I do agree that Google should have provided an update system that listed disabled apps for user removal. Disable immediately, allow the user to unlock that disable flag or uninstall in their normal app update process so they are aware of what is being done.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , June 25, 2010 5:17 PM
    Let the consumer decide whether or not he wants the app. removed,
    but explain the issues with the app.
  • 5 Hide
    FunYun , June 25, 2010 5:26 PM
    NapoleonDKI like this. It could be easily integrated into the app market, right were they say "Update Available". Make it say "Recalled" or "Malicious". I agree with your Poker game analogy as well, however, doesn't Google scan through apps that are uploaded? I would imagine apps need to be approved somewhere along the line...


    "One mans trash is another mans treasure"

    Until I put the garbage in the trash, it is not trash. How would you like it if I went through your home and chose what to throw away for you?
  • 3 Hide
    stromm , June 25, 2010 5:31 PM
    Yet another notch in setting the precedence for PC's to have their apps restricted too.
  • 6 Hide
    pozaks , June 25, 2010 5:34 PM
    "WARNING: This app has been recalled due to malicious content. strongly suggests that you delete this app from your system. You will be refunded the purchase price. Delete App?"

    You click no. Android puts a red border around the app, and bugs you every time you try to run it.

    Voila, a choice.
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