Google Remotely Deletes Two Apps From Android Phones

The security researcher who created the apps had misrepresented what the apps did, Google says.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

June 24, 2010

2 Min Read

Demonstrating that its approach to mobile security isn't as far from Apple's as some suggest, Google on Wednesday said that it had exercised its ability to delete two apps from Android users' phones.

In a blog post, Android security lead Rich Cannings said that Google had recently become aware that two apps in the Android Market did not fully disclose their function.

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"These applications intentionally misrepresented their purpose in order to encourage user downloads, but they were not designed to be used maliciously, and did not have permission to access private data — or system resources beyond permission.INTERNET," explained Cannings.

"permission.INTERNET" is an Android programming setting that allows applications to open a network socket to communicate over the Internet.

Cannings said that because the applications were essentially useless, most users uninstalled them after discovering they didn't do anything.

The security researcher who created the apps voluntarily removed them from the Android Market and Google decided to remove copies of the apps that remained on Android phones.

"The remote application removal feature is one of many security controls Android possesses to help protect users from malicious applications," explains Cannings. "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."

A Google spokesperson said that a few hundred Android phone users were affected.

Remote deletion of apps or content from users' devices without specific permission doesn't always go over well. Last year, Amazon decided to delete copies of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984" from Kindle devices because it discovered it did not have permission to sell the versions in question. Community outrage and a lawsuit followed.

Last year, Google told the FCC that it removes about 1% of apps submitted to the the Android Market for failure to comply with rules.

Cannings concludes by noting that Android's varied security mechanisms -- remote deletion, sandboxing and permissions, over-the-air updating, a central Market, developer registration requirements, and user-submitted ratings and flagging -- collectively help make Android's open environment secure.

Cannings' post arrived the same day as a report that questioned the security of the Android ecosystem.

Google in turn challenged the report's conclusions, and CNET decided to amend an article on the report that failed to sufficiently question the report's findings about alleged Android insecurity.

Update: Added Google spokesperson's comment about affected users.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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