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Google might let Android users reject specific permission requests from apps

News by Andrew Kameka on Monday May 20, 2013.

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Android currently has an all-or-nothing approach to permission requests for user data, but Google is open to the idea of letting users maintain more privacy by picking and choosing which requests they will allow. When installing apps from Google Play, Google warns users when an app wants to access private information like location, contacts, or services that cost money. All of the requests must be met in order for the app to install, but that may not be the way that apps behave in the future.

When asked during the Google I/O Android Fireside Chat if there could be a way that Android users install an app with optional permissions, Android Framework Engineer Dianne Hackborn responded:

"There have certainly been a lot of thoughts put into this. There's nothing that we can commit to doing right now, but we're definitely thinking about this."

Hackborn was hesitant to say that a change in the permission model is coming but confirmed that Google has considered implementing the oft-requested feature. Smartphone users have become increasingly wary of sharing their data with app makers, even when the request seems legitimate. Even an Android team member said during the chat that he has yet to install the latest update of Pocket because it requests access to a user's contacts. An "optional permissions" model could allow users to download an app but reject access to some information.

Technological headaches may be the reason for Google not adding optional permissions to Android. Custom ROMs and root applications have made it possible to selectively reject app permissions, but that sometimes leads to errors and crashes. Google may need to devise a way to make apps more consistent under an officially-sanctioned model that enables selective permissions.

Google declined to say with any certainty that the feature will one day be implemented, but the Android team members at Google I/O certainly seemed to have seriously considered giving users more control over Android app permissions.

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Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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