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Tweaked Android OS Blocks Apps From Accessing Your Personal Data

Steven Blum
5

These days, navigating app permissions has never been more complicated and confusing. Why should, say, a racing game, be granted access to your phonbook and location?  If you've ever hesitated over downloading an app that snoops your contact list, browser history and location data, you're not alone. That's why I was surprised and excited about the fact that a Bulgarian software developer has re-written the Android operating system so that it gives bogus data to the apps that want your personal information.

Under this radical redesign of Android, you still give apps permission to access your data, but the apps don't get to actually see any of it. Instead of, say, reading you bookmarks, the OS sends these apps the default sites that came with the device (like www.google.com). When phone logs are requested, the source sends empty ones.

All sorts of apps have found themselves in hot water over their app permissions. Dolphin Browser, for example, was found sending personal information on websites visited to servers in China. But without user data, it would be harder for many apps to stay free (or low-cost). For many companies, selling user data is their entire business model. Cerainly, an Android OS that doesn't allow this information to be used could hurt the larger app ecosystem. 

But as a concept, this OS, designed by developer Plamen Kosseff, is quite fascinating. So far, it only works on the HTC Desire HD although Kosseff says simple revisions would make it work on Samsung and other Android phones. The altered OS was rejected by Cyanogenmod over concerns that app developers would modify their code so that they are inoperable on Cynogenmod builds. 

 

Comments

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  • Izzy Jun 12, 2012 Link

    An interesting Article, Steven. That's basically what LBE Pricacy Guard is doing as well. Wish this behaviour was part of the original Android OS to give the user more control -- as I wish for "privacy by default" (i.e. on device initialization, all Cloud services are initially DISabled, and the Wizard instead allows to ENable them IF THE USER WISHES so).

    But, btw: I miss a link to the source of your information. Isn't there any project site or the like?

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  • Izzy Jun 12, 2012 Link

    Ah, "Google is your friend" -- here's the link to the project site:
    https://code.google.com/p/pffmod/wiki/Download

    and another one to more details:
    http://m.technologyreview.com/computing/40556/

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  • Steven Blum Jun 12, 2012 Link

    Izzy, I'm not sure why the links don't show up. Here's the MIT article about this:
    http://www.technologyreview.com/news/428142/use-their-app-keep-your-data/


    Android has an incentive to continue to allow these apps access to our data or venture capital for new apps could dry up, which I think is why there aren't "privacy by default" settings.

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  • Izzy Jun 12, 2012 Link

    Thanks Steven (and now I just found the link below your post -- so sorry for my wrong accusation! I was only looking inside the article and missed the place where it clearly says: "SOURCE", ouch...). Yes, that's also what the MIT article points out. And the reason given by the Cyanogen Team why they didn't adapt Plamens code when offered (plus the fact that developers might "blacklist" their apps for CM -- as some already do if they detect ad-blockers).

    Well, and who really believes "free" means "at no costs"? In so many cases "free" means: you don't pay with money but with your private data... Still: I prefer to decide for myself if I pay with (ads + personal data) or by buying the app. Usually the latter is cheaper, and includes longer battery life as a bonus as no ads have to be downloaded ;)

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  • CJ Brown Jun 14, 2012 Link

    Nice article & its nice to hear Consumers have a choice over what data apps are allowed to obtain (Consumers deserve the right to pick & choose; as well as control who can obtain their personal information) ...

    Now watch Apple try & steal this (& claim it is their own feature (lol) ...

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