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Android apps: Shifty little bleeders

Bit malwarey here and there

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A fifth of Android applications aren't playing fair, according to SMobile Systems which reckons that mobile application marketplaces are rife with malware.

SMobile ran though more than 48,000 applications on the Android Marketplace (about three quarters of the whole marketplace) collecting details of the permissions the applications requested – Android applications have to list resources required – and SMobile bases is analysis (pdf) on those requests.

The more perceptive reader will have noticed a flaw in such an analysis – it might be true that 20 per cent of Marketplace applications request access to personal information, but if those applications are social-networking-integration apps then they're going to need access to that data.

Similarly, five per cent apparently request access to the phone dialler, which SMobile points out can be used "to place a call to any number without interaction or authority from the user": but if those applications are shell replacements then that's entirely appropriate.

The Android Marketplace relies on the penguin approach – the first downloaders of an application are expected to report their suffering to protect everyone else. It's not a perfect system, and less secure than Apple's draconian impositions, but it maintains the freedom of the platform that some people consider more important than its security.

"Just because it's coming from a known location like the Android market or the Apple App store... doesn't mean you can assume that the app isn't malicious or that there is a proper vetting process," SMobile's chief technology officer told CNet, skipping over the fact that Apple's app store does have a proper vetting process (biased, contradictory and inconsistent, admittedly, but it is a process).

SMobile might have a point about Android applications asking for more privileges than they need, and that spyware is available for Google's platform. Android users do need to think twice before downloading applications, but saying that application stores are awash with malware seems more than a little alarmist. ®

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