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EFF chides Google for pulling Android privacy feature

Google reportedly claims feature was released accidentally

By Paul McNamara on Fri, 12/13/13 - 9:05am.

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How does a company of Google's stature "accidentally" release a privacy-enhancing software feature ... and then abruptly take it away?

Electronic Frontier Foundation technology projects director Peter Eckersley says he can't fathom Google having done this, or the company's explanation for having done so, in his post on the EFF's DeepLinks blog:

Yesterday, we published a blog post lauding an extremely important app privacy feature that was added in Android 4.3. That feature allows users to install apps while preventing the app from collecting sensitive data like the user's location or address book.

The App Ops interface removed in Android 4.4.2The App Ops interface removed in Android 4.4.2

After we published the post, several people contacted us to say that the feature had actually been removed in Android 4.4.2, which was released earlier this week. Today, we installed that update to our test device, and can confirm that the App Ops privacy feature that we were excited about yesterday is in fact now gone.

When asked for comment, Google told us that the feature had only ever been released by accident - that it was experimental, and that it could break some of the apps policed by it. We are suspicious of this explanation, and do not think that it in any way justifies removing the feature rather than improving it.

Google would certainly do well to make rectifying this situation a red-hot priority.