Tag Archives: Android OS

How private is an Android?

Photo from Creative Commons

A recent research report has called into question the practices of some Droid apps. The study looked at the top 30 downloaded Droid apps in the Droid market. These apps gather and then transmit information from Droid-enabled phones and then transmit the information to third parties. While some of the apps may ask for permission, it was found that the disclaimers did not justly or fully disclose all that the apps had access to and what they could share.

The researchers used an Android-based program called TaintDroid. The Android app simply logged and recorded how often information was shared, along with what information was shared. Researchers were surprised at both the frequency at which some apps sent information, along with breadth of the information that apps had access to share.

One app sent location information every 30 seconds to third party recipients letting them know exactly where users were at any given time. This certainly should raise some eyebrows since, while asking to share the user’s location, the app made no indication of the frequency it would transmit it. The app also failed to mention that it was capable of sharing that information even while being idle.

Fifteen other apps did not ask for permission at all before sharing location information of users with third parties. This is a real privacy concern for people who do not want to be tracked by third parties who may not have their best interest in mind. This also raises some legal concerns for the third parties behind these apps.

A number of other apps were found to share a great deal of personal information about the user and their phone without informing the user. Information transmitted to third parties could be phone numbers, their SIM card serial number and other device-specific information. This information could be used as a means to advertise directly to users or for other malicious acts.

Concern initially spurred when Android users were urged not to download Tap Snake, an app found on the Droid marketplace. It was suspected, and then later confirmed, to be a piece of malware that had passed Google’s screening methods and found its way onto the market. The malware, when downloaded, would copy and transmit any personal information it could access to third parties.

This brings a level of serious concern to apps that was not there previously. While the study only looked at Android-based apps, who knows what is lurking in apps of any other sort? Typically, most people don’t read through the agreements apps ask for when they need permission to transmit information. This creates a question of just what sort of data we are allowing our smart devices to transmit about us, and if we really feel comfortable not truly knowing what our devices are doing. It also raises the question of whose responsibility it is to ensure the safety of user information: is safety up to the user, or should the companies who run the marketplaces be held accountable?

Tablets going Android

Photo from Creative Commons

With Apple’s release of the iPad, the computer market has flooded with tablets trying to take advantage of the market reopened by Apple. These companies that have entered into the market lately have the advantage of seeing where Apple has failed to meet customer needs. This allows them to produce a product of similar value, but market it completely different.

While Apple has used its own propriety software, most of the new entries into the tablet market are making use of the lightweight operating system known as Android. This OS allows companies to create their machines to be more energy efficient since Android was originally designed to run on mobile devices such as cellphones. Making use of the light and quick OS ensures decent battery life for tablets, which historically have been known for extremely poor battery life.

Android tablets have the advantage of having a developed marketplace to buy programs from. In this way, the manufacturers who are looking to enter the tablet market are borrowing from Apple’s model. Seeing it as a means to gain greater profit since the Droid market enables them to cut out the usual ways in which people install programs onto computers, this gives more space for components to be spread out–hopefully lessening the chance of overheating.

There are only a few Android-based tablets running on the market, but rumors abound of various companies starting production on such devices. The Taiwanese computer company Asus, already known for their solid laptop and desktop computers, recently announced they were working on a tablet PC of their own. Originally, having planned to include the Windows mobile platform OS, they decided against it in favor of the sleeker, lighter and–more importantly–free Android OS. Samsung recently announced they are interested in getting into the tablet market; it is still inconclusive as to how deterministic this will be to them creating their own tablet.

One tablet currently on the market seems to be a big improvement on the iPad. The WePad, made by a German company, will be released in the US later this year. Writers who have managed to get their hands on the German released device have touted it as the iPad killer. The writers cite its flash capabilities as a major bonus to the device. While websites are moving to HTML5, most current web-content is done in flash. The WePad also sports a 1.3 mega-pixel built-in webcam, making it Skype ready. The WePad can operate like a phone, a very large phone, which is fine since users can make use of the included headset to go hands free with their massive touch screen phone.

While the tablet market is just now starting to get worked up, it appears as though Android is going to be the dominate platform for tablet devices. It has the distinct advantage of being a free OS that caters specifically to mobile devices. In addition, people are more or less used to the interface it makes use of, allowing for little to no learning curve, unlike devices which adapted Linux OS. The battle on the tablet will not be between Microsoft and Apple, it will be between Apple and Android.