Google criticised for removal of Android privacy
Web titan claims Jelly Bean contained feature in error, eliminates from KitKat
Google Inc has come under fire from digital rights activists for removing a privacy feature from the Android OS that had allowed users to customise what information third-party apps could collect from their mobile device, Reuters reported.
The feature allowed users to pick which type of information installed tools would be allowed to access. Many app developers try to get hold of call information or location data, which may have little bearing on the functionality of their app.
Google said the privacy feature had been mistakenly included in the latest version of Jelly Bean (4.3), but that it would be removed from the new version, 4.4.2 (KitKat).
"We are suspicious of this explanation, and do not think that it in any way justifies removing the feature rather than improving it," said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Web users rights organisation that first publicised Google's decision.
But Eckersley added that users opting to remain on Jelly Bean would run the risk of being vulnerable to malware, as 4.4.2 contained a number of security updates.
According to the most recent quarterly data from IDC, Android's install base is 81% of smartphones shipped in the third quarter.
Google's relationship with privacy has been controversial in the past. In March the Web giant paid out a reported $7m to 38 US states over allegations that its Street View vehicles had gathered personal information from residents' unencrypted routers while mapping their neighbourhoods. In November Google also agreed to pay a $17m settlement in a case that alleged the clandestine tracking of users by placing marker files on their smartphones' Web browsers.