September 30, 2008

Debunking Google Android Conspiracy Theories

Greetings. Since I've lately written enthusiastically about Google's Android cell phone OS, and also expressed enthusiasm for the first Android phone (HTC's G1 T-Mobile "Dream" -- with a proviso regarding the inability of an unlocked G1 to operate in 3G mode on AT&T's network), I've received a lot of responses.

Many of these were technical questions that I'm not yet in a position to address. I haven't yet touched a physical G1 -- the Android SDK program development environment is very well designed but obviously can't substitute completely for the actual instrumentality of the device itself. Some replies were arguments regarding why the G1 won't support AT&T 3G. I consider this to be largely a marketing decision by HTC/T-Mobile -- other observers are free to have their own opinions of course.

But of particular note was the flurry of (cue the theremin!) Android Conspiracy Theory (ACT) messages that I received, mostly of the "Android is just another facet of Google's plans for global domination and control through a Google World Order (GWO). Into the valley of crazies we go again.

Admittedly, I can't help but be amused by some of this nonsense. Android is a wide open and open source platform. Unlike some vendors, like -- uh -- Apple with the iPhone, anyone will be able to write and distribute Android applications based completely on the free SDK. Again unlike Apple, there is no central control over Android applications distribution, so ridiculous situations like Apple refusing to allow a third-party podcasting application to be distributed for the iPhone -- ostensibly because it "duplicates" existing phone functionality -- will not occur (what kind of wacko reasoning is behind this kind of Apple control freak attitude? The mind boggles.)

The Android security architecture appears to be extremely well thought out, including all of the aspects that are of most concern from a privacy standpoint. Applications are signed by developers, but self-signed certificates are both acceptable and typical -- a model that is very much in sync with my own preference for self-signed certs whenever possible.

I have seen absolutely nothing to suggest that Google will have any kind of "backdoor" into Android users' phone data. Obviously if you use Google applications (Search, Gmail, Maps, etc.) you'll be generating data and log entries similar to those that you would when using those services from any other device.

But to those of you who have suggested that Android is Google's attempt to record every phone number that you dial and even monitor your phone calls ... well ... I file such conspiracy theories in the same plastic-lined waste container also reserved for tales of alien abductions and chupacabra sightings.

And if that's not enough to convince you, there's one other point to remember. The cellular carriers -- in the case of the G1 typically T-Mobile for now -- are required by law to provide various degrees of protection for customer usage (e.g. called number) data -- albeit not the high level of protection from government snooping that many persons would prefer to see in place these days. Google's providing their Android OS for the G1 doesn't change any of T-Mobile's obligations in this regard.

Android is going to be a Very Big Deal -- a textbook example of a technology game changer. Its open applications development and distribution model will likely relegate the current iPhone methodology to laughable status in short order. I expect to see a veritable flood of Android applications of every conceivable sort (some likely by my own hand).

As far as I can determine right now, Google has simply done Android right.


Posted by Lauren at September 30, 2008 01:50 PM | Permalink
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