Watch out there, folks. Though to some the open App Marketplace may seem like the best thing ever, to others it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen (or at least it allows for a significant level of creepiness). For example, the SMS Secret Replicator Andriod App, created by DLP Mobile, forwards all text messages from the cell phone on which the app is installed to another phone of the downloader’s choosing. If that’s not creepy enough, once the app is installed, it leaves no trace of its existence on the phone, so there is no way of knowing it is present on the device.
One aspect that clearly differentiates the Android Market from the Apple App Store is the idea of an open market to which any developer is welcome and encouraged to upload a custom-made application. However, in late October of this year, Google initially approved the SMS Secret Replicator app, and then removed the application from the Andriod market just 18 hours later claiming it “violate[d] the Android Market Content Policy.”
Being a Palm Pre user myself, I am not extremely familiar with the unlimited world of mobile applications. However, while I have explored the facilities of an iPhone on multiple occasions, my knowledge of Android phones is quite limited, so I decided to speak to a close friend about her Droid experience.
Though my friend initially desired an iPhone, her current wireless carrier was Verizon, so she settled on an Android device as her first smartphone. After her first month as an Android owner, she loves her “sleek and user friendly” phone with great apps and she doesn’t “feel like [she’s] missing out on anything the iPhone has to offer.” Though she was unaware of the ability of any developer “to easily publish and distribute their applications directly to users of Andriod-compatible phones” after paying a $25 registration fee (as stated on the log in screen of the Android Market), she likes that it allows for more selection and choice, but does not think that anyone should have access to personal information such as “your location, biographical information and other private information” through certain applications.
Upon hearing of the SMS Secret Replicator for the first time, her reaction was, “Umm…does that exist? Cause that is really creepy. …I don’t think an app like that should exist.”
Exactly, this Application should not exist, and thanks to two specific aspects of the Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement, it has been suspended. Section 4.3 begins “You agree that if you use the Market to distribute Products, you will protect the privacy and legal rights of users….If your Product stores personal or sensitive information provided by users, it must do so securely and only for as long as it is needed.” While personal or sensitive information usually refers to items more like passwords or medical information, I believe it is safe to say that individuals tend to send personal or sensitive information in text messages when they are under the impression that they are aware of exactly who will be receiving that information.
Section 7.2 Addresses Google Takedowns – “While Google does not intend, and does not undertake, to monitor the Products or their content, if Google is notified by you or otherwise becomes aware and determines in its sole discretion that a Product or any portion thereof or your Brand Features…(e) may create liability for Google or Authorized Carriers…(g) violates the terms of this Agreement or the Market Content Policy for Developers…Goodle may remove the Product from the Market or reclassify the Product at its sole discretion. Google reserves the right to suspend and/or bar any Developer from the Market at its sole discretion.” Essentially, the SMS Secret Replicator Application had the potential to create liability for Google and violated the privacy of users, which, in turn, is a violation of the terms of the Agreement.
Though this specific application has been banned, the thought that if I buy an Android phone, someone can potentially pick up my phone if I leave it unattended and quickly download an application that will forward all of my text messages to their phone is terrifying. So don’t leave your Android on a table by your “friend” while you run to the restroom. With an ever-expanding app market, the next thing you know, every photo you take with your cell phone camera will wind up on your mom’s computer screen in the middle of the family kitchen.
It appears that within the past few weeks the two previously mentioned app purchasing locations (the Android Market and the Apple App Store) are moving closer to one another in terms of rules and regulations. While Google has advertised its Android Market as a place where anyone can contribute their original idea for an app, it has had to start cracking down on developers who have taken this liberty one step too far. On the flip side, previously known for it’s rather strict censorship rules when it came to allowing developers to use certain development tools when creating an app for an Apple device, Apple received a great deal of ridicule for rejecting apps on ridiculous platforms. The company has recently decided to relax its restrictions on the use of these development tools, giving developers more flexibility, and to publish the App Store Review Guidelines to improve transparency. Unfortunately, many issues with these guidelines have been recognized – especially by developers.
As part of this new, relaxed Apple restrictions, as of today, the Google Voice app has been approved for the iPhone. This is a pretty big deal because between when Google submitted the application to Apple over 16 months ago and today, the FCC had to step in to ask whether Apple and AT&T were trying to prevent Google’s services from competing with their already built-in features (including making voice calls from the cellular device, sending text messages, checking voicemail, etc.). Shall we jump back in class a few months to the topic of Net Neutrality?
As of today, the Google Voice app can be downloaded for free on the iPhone. The Google Voice mobile app has already been available on Android phones and Blackberry phones for a few months.