Ina Fried

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Google Pulls Privacy Feature it Says Wasn’t Supposed to Be in Android in First Place

pile_of_androidsWith the latest update to Android, Google has removed a hidden feature that had been used to allow phone owners to more tightly control which personal information could be accessed by applications.

Google isn’t commenting directly on the feature’s removal, but the company has indicated that it had inadvertently included experimental code within Android 4.3 that enabled it. Google won’t say when or if the feature might return.

The move isn’t winning Google any love from privacy advocates, who see yanking the feature as a step back for consumers.

Google, for its part, is positioning the feature’s removal as something that was necessary for app stability. The company maintains that it could cause apps to crash, since it allows for certain permissions to be revoked.

“We are suspicious of this explanation, and do not think that it in any way justifies removing the feature rather than improving it,” Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a blog post calling attention to Google’s change, which came as part of version 4.4.2 of Android. The EFF had earlier this week done a blog post praising the feature.

Although Google never documented this hidden privacy feature or how to use it, third-party developers managed to create apps that harnessed it to allow users to revoke certain permissions for individual apps. If users have already used the feature to modify app permissions, those controls will remain in place, though Android 4.4.2 also has a setting that would remove all such controls.

Meanwhile, the EFF hopes that Google will soon return the feature, as it says it gave users a powerful tool to curb the growing trend of apps demanding more permissions than are needed to do their job.

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