Google is being condemned by the watchdog group the Electronic Frontier Foundation for yanking out a privacy feature from the latest version of Android.
A couple of weeks ago, we told you about the feature called App Ops available in Google’s Android smartphone operating system. It let you decide what you wanted to allow each app to do. Were you cool with the app waking up the device? Tracking your location? Accessing your address book or camera? You got to choose.
A lot of apps need access to features to work correctly. Others track all kinds of information about you for other reasons, like selling ads.
Google had introduced the App Ops feature in Android 4.3, known as Jellybean. A lot of Android phones currently run 4.3, but it’s not the latest version of Android. The latest version is Android 4.4, known as KitKat. And with KitKat, Google got rid of that feature.
At first, Google didn’t completely kill it, just hid it. A free app called App Ops by developer Colour Tiger was quickly released that brought it back.
Now Google has turned around and released a new version of KitKat, 4.4.2, in which it removed the App Ops feature altogether. The Colour Tiger app can’t bring it back, it confirmed to Business Insider. (Though the company says its trying to come up with a fix).
So with KitKat 4.4.2, if you don’t want a flashlight app or game to track your location, or tap into your address book, too bad.
The disappearance of App Ops is alarming news for Android users. The fact that they cannot turn off app permissions is a Stygian hole in the Android security model, and a billion people’s data is being sucked through. Embarrassingly, it is also one that Apple managed to fix in iOS years ago. A moment ago, it looked as though Google cared about this massive privacy problem. Now we have our doubts.
Google declined comment on why it removed the App Ops feature. However one Googler Dianne Hackborn explained on Google+ that the feature was never supposed to be made available to people who own Android devices. Google created it for Google engineers to help them test apps, she said.