Google removes privacy feature from Android mobile software

SAN FRANCISCO: Google Inc removed an experimental privacy feature from its Android mobile software that allowed users to prevent apps from collecting personal information such as address book data and a user’s location.

The change means smartphone owners using Android 4.4.2, the latest version of the world’s most popular operating system for mobile devices released this week, must provide access to their personal data in order to use certain apps.

A company spokesperson said the feature was accidentally included in Android 4.3, the version released last summer.

“We are suspicious of this explanation, and do not believe it in any way justifies removing the feature rather than enhancing it,” said Peter Eckersley, director of technology projects at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The digital rights website first announced the change in a blog post on Friday.

Android users who want to retain privacy controls by not upgrading to Android 4.4.2 could be vulnerable to security risks, Eckersley said.

“At this time, users will have to choose between privacy or security on Android devices, but not both.”

Many third-party apps for Android devices, such as the music identification service Shazam and popular smartphone flashlight apps, require access to personal information that may not always have an obvious connection to the functionality of the device. application, such as phone call information and location data.

The privacy feature allowed users to choose what personal data a third-party app can collect, Eckersley said.

Users had to install special Apps Ops Launcher software, created by another company, in order to access hidden privacy controls.

Android software was loaded on 81% of all smartphones shipped globally in the third quarter, according to research firm IDC. Apple Inc’s iOS, the software used on the iPhone, held 12.9% market share.

Privacy has become an increasingly important issue as smartphones, loaded with consumers’ personal information, become the primary computing device for many consumers.

In November, Google agreed to pay a $17 million fine to settle allegations that it secretly tracks internet users by placing special digital files on their smartphone web browsers. (Reuters)

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