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Saturday, December 14, 2013
Google Removes Privacy Feature From Android


Google has removed an important app privacy feature that was added in Android 4.3, which allowed users to install apps while preventing the app from collecting sensitive data like the user's location or address book.

The feature was released earlier this week but was removed by Google just one day later.

Google said 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," said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The digital rights website first publicized the change in a blog post on Friday.

Third-party apps for Android devices including music-identifying service Shazam and popular smartphone flashlight apps, require access to personal information that does not always have an obvious connection to the app's functionality, such as phone call information and location data.

The privacy feature allowed users to pick and choose which personal data a third-party app can collect, Eckersley said. Users had to install a special Apps Ops Launcher software, which was created by another company, in order to access the hidden privacy controls.

Privacy has become an important issue as smartphones, which are loaded with consumers' personal information, become the primary computing device for many consumers. In November Google agreed to pay a $17 million fine to settle allegations that it secretly tracked Web users by placing special digital files on the Web browsers of their smartphones.

New probe from Canada

In seperate news, Canada's antitrust regulators will open a formal investigation into whether Google is abusing its dominance of the Internet search market to stifle competition.

In a filling to Ottawa federal court earlier this week, Canada's Competition Bureau indicated that it suspects that Google has been breaking the country's antitrust laws. Regulators are seeking a court order that would require Google's Canadian subsidiary to furnish antitrust investigators with internal company records.

Regulatory headaches have become a pain for Google.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission closed an antitrust investigation into Google's methods earlier this year without finding any wrongdoing.

A broad investigation by European regulators remains open, though Google has offered to tweak the way to it ranks some of its search results in an attempt to resolve the inquiry without facing financial penalties.




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