Thursday, March 10, 2011

Android Remote-Destructs Malware - A Good Thing, as Long as Google Isn't Evil

Over the weekend, Google announced through a blog post that they had used a remote "kill switch" to not only deactivate, but remove, about twenty applications which exploited a security flaw to transmit the phone's carrier and user ID, and also allow downloading of further malicious code. Google followed up with a security update to close this issue, and made it clear that it was never a problem on Android versions 2.22 and higher.

Good for Google, right? Yes, good for Google, and good for its Android users - THIS time. Google is using a remote-removal feature which gives them an extreme amount of power over users, and it is again depending on our acceptance of its "Don't be evil" credo.

While Apple is roundly (and correctly) criticized for its draconian App Store approval process, one benefit is, it doesn't allow apps like this onto its phones. Google's Android App Store is much more open, and obviously these apps took advantage. That Google was able to reach out and pull back these apps was a benefit to users. It was also a clear sign of the power that Google has, and if that power were to be used less scrupulously, it could have far-reaching consequences, from non-competitive to down-right anti-privacy practices.

In the short term, Google has aided customers by helping them avoid malware. In the long term, we are left with deeper questions. As Google conglomerates the worlds' information, and information is clearly convertible to power, and power so famously corrupts, how much power is it going to take to corrupt Google? Is it just a matter of time? What will be the implications when it happens?

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