Why Google's Android Market Kill Switch Is Good for Users

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-10-21 Print this article Print

Last week, blogs were abuzz with the discovery that the terms of service for Google's Android Market application Web site has a "kill switch" to squash malicious applications.

This enables Google to turn off an app that you may have downloaded to a phone based on Android, Google's mobile operating system software.

Google's language is: "Google may discover a product that violates the developer distribution agreement... in such an instance, Google retains the right to remotely remove those applications from your device at its sole discretion."

Android isn't the first and won't be the last app marketplace to have a kill switch. The move follows a similar clause in Apple's iPhone terms of service, a move that was heavily criticized after Apple closed a distribution channel on a podcasting app for the iPhone.

I spoke to Google Android Product Manager Erick Tseng yesterday about the Android kill switch. He told me:

"We will have the ability to remotely kill malicious apps that are distributed through the market. This is not a tool that we anticipate using a lot at all. It's sort of a peace-of-mind tool, if you will, for consumers, so if we uncover something which is just horribly malicious, we can actually protect consumers with this."
I have no problem with the kill switch, as long as the Android team doesn't mistake a good app for a malicious app. It's better for me to have the data on my phone, or even the OS itself, protected from junky code. 

I asked Tseng if he and his team have seen any abuse of Android Apps yet. He said no, but added that once you have something as open as the Internet, you are bound to have folks out there who are creating apps that do "funky things whether it's stealing your contacts and spamming them, which is just a nuisance, to actually doing something more malicious."

In other words, same old story, different day. We've learned this is the worldwide state of affairs for the Web. Wide open Internet = bonehead coding and actions about as much as great coding to foster Web development.

I also asked him whether Android, whose complete operating system stack Google just released under an Apache license today, is more susceptible to foul play than iPhone apps because it is open source. Tseng said no:
"What you find with open source in fact is in many ways the opposite. Instead of just having one organization to advise on a problem, you've got the entire community. And what we've already seen with the SDK and the Developer Challenge is an incredible response from mobile developers and non-mobile developers worldwide who have become part of the Internet."
That's pretty much the answer you'd expect from a card-carrying member of the open-source philosophy. Whether or not it's true is another matter, though it does echo the age-old adage that two eyes (in this case, thousands) are better than one. 

Sure I'd be annoyed if an Android app I was using suddenly went dead, but it's better than having data ripped from my phone for malicious use, or having my smart phone hijacked by others.

Think on that awhile. In the meantime, check out this great piece from Technologizer on why the Android kill switch is more acceptable than the iPhone's kill switch. Hint: It has to do with multiple distribution channels, something Apple's iPhone wouldn't know anything about. :)

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