January 2011 brought in a lot of buzz questioning the openness of Google’s Android OpenSource marketplace. While Apps getting 187’d from the iTunes App Store ad nauseum was common place and Apple holding controlling rights over their products were able to enforce rules adhoc, it was surprising to see Google blocking Kongregate App from the Android marketplace. While Kongregate has established itself well as a games App developer, even positioning themselves on social networks like Facebook, with over 1000 games available, it appeared surprising that Google removed it from official Android App market place with not a very strong supporting alibi.
This app removal act along with Kongregate CEO Statement’s set tongues wagging on the veracity of Google’s decision. Kongregate claimed that the App was pulled due to the Android Market Developer Distribution Agreement terms and the “claim you can’t use their App store to distribute another App store.” Google pointed out that “Application in violation of Android Marketplace policies are removed from the market.” Where does this argument stand? Is this the true picture? The developments of the next couple of days proved otherwise. Maybe Google was right in their own way.
After being removed, Kongregate modified their App for resubmission. Earlier the App would be explicitly downloaded on the phone’s SD Card and managed from there. Now the modified version uses a WebKit browser’s cache to store its offline files. Secondly the App now shows the Browser address bar before jumping to the full screen playing in Flash.
Prior to this episode also, Android has been removing Apps but only those that were really bizarre and crossed all limits or fraudulent banking Apps. As a tradition Google avoided dabbling with all other Apps approvals methods unlike Apple. Apple has been sneered at for this attitude, but, on the other hand, Google’s careful handling has won it a lot of appraises.
At this juncture, it is prudent to say that the Kongregate view is questionable. With the App still available for side loading from Kongregate’s website, the possibility of malware, Trojans, Cyber-security, Viruses getting embedded into the phone’s SD card is a serious point of worry. If users do not block the side loading features on their phones, severe security issues could arise. With various PC operating systems having had faced severe attacks in the past, from hackers and malware, the PC industry has taken fairly exhaustive measures by way of firewalls, anti-virus plus anti-phishing plus anti-spam features and have tried to focus themselves against many an attack. Although the smartphone market is a much softer target for cyber criminals and the vulnerabilities could reach typical dangerous levels, the present situation isn’t as bad yet.
With the Android and iPhone explosion in the market and jail-breaking as a practice allowed in the US, it is not too far that smartphone users could face similar vulnerability situations. The last week of 2010 already saw Trojans like “Geinimi” piggybacking pirated third party Apps, primarily China based, allowing a remote server taking control of the smartphone. But the original versions on the official App market place did not have this problem.
Was Google right in taking a bit of additional security into their own hands? Maybe, YES.