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New in Android 4.3: At last we get a grip on privacy-invading crApps

Decide which app can do what, and when - almost like a real computer

Mobile application security vulnerability report

The latest version of Google's Android, 4.3, has a panel controlling access permissions on an app-by-app basis - but only for those users ready to experiment with untested functionality.

The App Ops control was found by Android Police and initially required a hack to bring it to life. Now there's an app in the Google Play store that unlocks the control panel letting anyone running Android 4.3 control exactly which parts of the device and operating system are available to each installed application.

That might mean, for example, letting a Facebook app synchronise with the on-phone address book, while denying it access to the GPS data, or preventing Twitter from clogging up the notification bar while permitting it network access to get updates.

All Android apps come with a list of required privileges - from basic access to the vibration chip, to read and write access to storage memory - and users are asked to approve the list as part of the installation process. But the approval is entirely non-granular - the fandroid either gives approval or cancels the installation, and users always click "yes" when asked a question so the value of the process has been debated.

Whether the applications will continue work with their permission withdrawn or finely tuned on Android 4.3 is hard to say; they may react unpredictably if probing forbidden parts is kicked back with an unexpected error code - which is likely why Google hasn't included the panel by default.

Android Police also reports that the panel has some problems detecting the permissions granted to each app, sometimes only listing them once they've been used.

App Ops should let the more-tech-savvy user control access at a more granular level; preventing Facebook from insisting on its constant polling, or denying location data to the graphics app that insists on geo-tagging every photograph, though its hard to imagine the majority of users taking the time to bother.

There may also be a backlash from developers who don't want their advertising-supported game denied network access. Such apps will run without the network but on the assumption that connectivity will return at some point; if left alone in the world they'll struggle to be viable. ®

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