The thought of a wireless provider having the ability to remotely uninstall software from mobile phones is frightening, and that’s just what Android’s "Kill Switch" enables.
But as The Washington Post reports, that actually may be a good thing. While Google’s first Android phone - the T-Mobile G1 - invites developers to create a plethora of applications for users to download and install, some of those programs may have malicious intent and wreak havoc on mobile phones. The kill switch allows T-Mobile/Google to go in and uninstall the software, as it violates Google’s developer distribution agreement.
"While we encourage that community aspect, we are also very careful with the safety and security of the user," Google spokesperson told the Washington Post. "In limited cases where an application has a malicious intent, we will remove it from the Market and potentially uninstall it from user devices to ensure the safety of the Android Market community."
Google says it retains the right to remove the malicious software from the Android phone at its discretion ; unlike Apple, the company hasn’t hidden this fact whatsoever. Google claims that it will even attempt to refund the infected consumer’s money. But many consumers may consider the kill switch as an invasion of privacy. After all, Microsoft doesn’t swoop in and uninstall viruses from infected copies of Windows XP and Vista ; why should things be any different on a mobile phone ?
That question cannot be answered for now, however Google’s intent is to keep the Android Market safe for consumers to download and install anything and everything safely. But because the Android Market is an open platform, and Google doesn’t inspect and moderate every release in the same restrictive form as Apple’s iPhone App Store, the potential for network-wide damage could be astronomical.
Recently Apple came under fire for its iPhone after a hacker discovered that Apple’s mobile phone features a hidden kill switch (or rather an application blacklist). Upon speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Apple’s Steve Jobs confirmed it to be true : there is such a feature on the iPhone. However, Jobs insisted that the backdoor access existed in case a malicious program tried to steal the user’s personal information and distribute it across the App Store.
"Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull," he told the paper.
Both Google and Apple have valid reasons for implementing a kill switch into their phones. But the thought that these secret accesses can be compromised is just as frightening as the implication that Google, T-Mobile and Apple can uninstall software remotely without warning or prior permission. Who’s to say that malevolent individuals employed by either companies won’t decide to take a peek at your personal info. There are no guarantees. Consumers will have to rely on faith alone that said companies have their customers’ best intentions at heart, not their wallets.