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All Android apps are not made equal

Google's are more equal than others

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

With Android developers finally let loose with real hardware, some of the limitations of the Android SDK are coming to light - though it seems that applications coming out of the Googleplex aren't limited in quite the same way.

The first evidence of a hierachical strata of developers comes with access to APIs for installing applications, a capability that Google likes to restrict to their own Android Marketplace app. The issue has highlighted the lack of equality amongst developers, upsetting some idealists though Android reckons the community will have to give up a little openness for the sake of security.

Marketplace comes pre-installed on Android phones; Google's application repository can't be accessed any other way, and as such it has access to capabilities that won't be available to third-party developers. Specifically, the Android Marketplace can install other applications onto an Android phone without warning, or alerting, the user.

Here's the official Android response.

"At this point, we think it is too dangerous to give a third party application blanket access to install applications without the user being involved. That may change in the future, but for now that is the way it is."

This isn't going to affect most developers, of course, but should Handango decide to port InHand - an on-device application for buying apps from Handango - then application installation could well be complicated by repeated dialog boxes warning users of potential risks: in contrast to the smooth process promised by Marketplace.

There are significant security risks with allowing a third-party application carte blanche to do what it likes, but that was supposed to be part of the Android experience - allowing punters to take responsibility for their own security. Still, Google clearly believes that users can only be trusted so far. ®

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