Monday, June 28, 2010

google's godlike power

I like Google. I use Gmail, Docs, Apps, Reader, Calendar, Chrome...I'm a GooGrrl through and through. I even have an Android phone. I generally think it's funny when people complain about Google doing this or that "evil" thing, such as the flap a few months back about the Aurora hack and Google's role in it. Corporations exist to make money, and Google is no different. The fact that they are as un-evil as they are is pretty impressive. Also, I love my phone.

A few days ago, Google removed two apps from its Android Market and also, more intrusively, removed the installed apps from the phones of any users who had installed them. This is a move somewhat similar to when Amazon removed copies of two Orwell works from Kindle e-readers, which caused a HUGE flap among Kindle owners. Never mind that the works had been pirated; it was a privacy violation! Interestingly enough, I haven't heard the same outcry over Google's actions with the two apps, both of which were proof-of-concept apps from a security researcher. This may simply be due to the fact that Google's Terms of Service are more easy to understand than Amazon's; I don't know because I don't own a Kindle (and my CLIQ can't run the new Kindle Android app yet).

Or rather, I haven't heard much of an outcry. The Register ran an article in which writer Cade Metz compared the Google pull to the one from Amazon. As the article points out, Apple has the same ability -- to pull installed apps -- from its iPhone, but if that ability has ever been used, nobody has said so. Of course, Apple also has more of an application vetting process than Google does.

So was Google evil for pulling the apps or not? On the one hand, I'd like to think that my phone and all its apps and data are sacrosanct. After all, I would be mightily pissed if Microsoft or my ISP started removing apps that they didn't approve of from my desktop or notebook...uh...not that I have any such apps installed! Right. On the other hand, mobile phones, no matter how cool, are not exactly analogous to computers in form, function, or, apparently, terms of service.

Much more potentially sinister, says the security researcher whose apps were pulled, one Jon Oberheide, is the fact that Google can install apps at will. Not because Google might do so -- after all, anything Google might install on your phone in their infinite wisdom could only be for the greater good -- but because the INSTALL_ASSET message contains no source authentication. But don't take my word for it; read his article yourself.

So, in other words, the most evil thing about this latest Google issue is not the power that Google wields nor the fear that they might use it for evil: it's the fact that they are wielding it ineptly. Clean up your act, Google, so I can once more feel confident about the virgins I sacrifice to you. (If anyone has any virgins they're not using, please send them my way: my supply is running low.)

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