Google Can Remotely Remove Apps From Your Phone

Even if I’ve been following Android’s development since the earlier parts of 2008, I’d never known that Google has the functionality to remotely remove any application from your device that they deem necessary. There’s a reason we don’t hear about this: they don’t do it often, and when they do, it’s usually for a very good reason.

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Recently, they had to remove an application from the market that was practically useless as the app was being misrepresented in order to get people to download it, but the app didn’t actually do anything. Most users uninstalled the application naturally, but Google decided to do a little clean sweep of their own and get the applications off of the small amount of devices that had yet to uninstall it.

It’s a bit scary, if you think about it. Even if Google’s only planning to use the feature in the case of an emergency or extreme security risks, it’s kind of unsettling to know that they have that kind of power. Still, we trust they won’t be messing up their reputation of being open and honest, so I’m sure no one has anything to worry about.

[via Android Developers]

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  • going_home

    Oh boy what open source ?

    :(

  • hector

    Don’t use his market, its that simple.

  • Kendall Spann

    this is another reason i hate google

  • Themetatron

    I welcome our new robot overlords, all hail skynet

  • jerry

    “Even if Google’s only planning to use the feature in the case of an emergency or extreme security risks, it’s kind of unsettling to know that they have that kind of power.”

    I am not all that unsettled about it, especially given the first half of your sentence.

    I would think such power should be disclosed, then the policy behind when it would be used should be disclosed, and the use of such an app kill switch / removal switch should be logged and disclosed.

    But given the first half of your statement, I really don’t have problems with them removing apps from my phone that they determine are some extreme security risk.

  • http://www.daverea.com/ medicdave

    The fact that Google can remove Market-provided apps from phones is nothing new, the only newsworthy thing in this case is that they *used* the system to remove an app from phones that was known to be malicious. If you don’t like this capability Google has, get your apps from somewhere besides the Android Market – something you have the freedom to do on Android thanks to Google!

  • aconner22

    Any word on how this is done? Otherwise might not be scary or unsettling.

  • Joe

    Anyone know how to disable this?

  • marcink

    common, this is nothing new… apple has it, google has it, microsoft will have it as well…

    and it has nothing to do with open source or not… give me a break.

  • Drew

    If this ever hit the nightly news there would be such an uproar from privacy advocates. My guess is that there will be at least a few lawsuits about this within the next year or two.

  • Mike

    Given the flak that Amazon got for remotely deleting books on people’s Kindles, I doubt Google has any plans to use this willy-nilly.

  • Andrew

    If you’re really all that concerned about it(I certainly am not) then you can root your phone and get apps elsewhere. It’s really not that big a deal.

  • http://pi-sd.com Howard

    I’m not uncomfortable with Google’s ability to detect what applications I have on my phone. That said, I would prefer to be in the loop when an application is removed. That would be more in line with Google’s motto of “Don’t be evil.”

  • http://flavors.me/fallingup79 Lee Brown

    Just an FYI for all the people that will read this and go, “OMG,” Apple can do this as well and they have been gathering usage data for awhile as well. These are the times that we live in.

  • Gerg

    Root and use Titanium Backup :)

    Then you get to keep your malware :P

  • Wagster

    Just so long as they’re not illegally monitoring my wifi traffic…

  • andre

    Its common practice, but I don’t like it

  • Earthrazer

    Well, actually, it makes sense. If an app slipped in that was, say, updated to start ripping your financial data off your phone, a mass purge would not only be neccesary, but acceptable.

    Relax folks. It’s not likey they’re doing it daily. Every system should have an “oh $#!+” button…

  • Hunter

    As long as the software is malicious I am ok with this.

  • aconner22

    Nothing to fear but fear itself. Back to work…

  • bob

    I dont care

  • Phil

    Use some sense folks. Google doesn’t review the apps in the market. So anyone can put an app out there that says it does one thing while it actually does something else. It could start sending off your personal data or make your phone a part of a botnet and you’d never know…until you got that gigantic data bill from your carrier once they go to tiered pricing. So Google is just taking responsibility for letting anything on your phone through the market by having a mechanism to help protect you. Yet they have given you the ability to completely ignore their market and go elsewhere if you wish. Its not like they are watching your phone or restricting you. In this day and age of malware this is basically necessary.

  • Cubesteak

    No biggie, maybe they will scan my phone for viruses as well, NOW, should they play with something on my phone that DID NOT originate from their market, THAT would be newsworthy!

  • Gabriel

    I hate sensationalism.

    It would be irresponsible for Google to not have a system like this in place. If you actually read the article you would know this was the right thing to do and on another note, everyone (Apple, Amazon and others) have and have used similar systems.

    Nothing OMG about it.

  • Matt

    what kind of fearmongering is this?

    everyone knew this from day one. Apple can do the same thing.

    the difference is google only does it for apps that are dangerous and apple will do it for apps that are paid

  • reb146

    I am glad they are doing this, i dont have time to troll forums and sites all day reading what apps have flaws or problems and should be deleted.

    good looking out goog

  • Quentyn Kennemer

    @Gabriel (24) I did note that in the article.

  • Gabriel

    @Wagster

    Please tell me what law they broke?

    Sorry to infuse annoying things like facts to ruin your outlook of a story but there was nothing illegal about what they did.

  • Jimmy

    This article seems to be more about fear mongering than being informative. i’ve been reading articles about this since it happened, but this is the first one that I’ve read with a negative view.
    I’m not fond of the fact that I cant be an island to myself anymore, but I was fully aware of that when I purchased an android phone. We pretend to be so concerned about our personal information, but we will give our phone numbers and zips to clerks at retail stores with others in line listening. Then our numbers become part of a database thats just added into the large amount of intel thats already been collected on us, which in turn is sold to those who desire to exploit this information for their own gain through advertising, or worse. So Im not that concerned that Google has the ability to remove malicious applications from my phone, given the fact that all my information on their they already have.

  • Skunkpbguy

    MY Droid is not the one they are looking for..

  • foebea

    This is not breaking news, or some kind of secret. it was known all along. It’s primarily a protection against destructive applications and viruses.

    If they start using it against honest and straightforward applications against the will of the users, THEN they are as bad as apple in this function.

  • Terrell

    I for one am more than okay with this. Thank you Google

  • Cool

    Well, not a problem, BUT Google should have some sort of notification to TELL you they are entering “YOUR” handset, what they will do and why. THEN as it is YOUR handset, ask for permission to remove the app. Malicious or not, they don’t have a RIGHT to unknowingly ACCESS your phone, PERIOD! No more than you or I accessing someone else’s.

    That said, this is certainly a grey area that they should tread carefully as it establishes nasty precedents. Does MS or APPLE have the RIGHT to enter your PC and do the same? No… and SMARTPHONES with similar DATA structure/sensitivity issues should not be considered any different. EVEN if it is for your benefit! Dangerous ground for sure. If they do this, what’s to stop any other developer from doing the same, establishing that certain app’s are bad for your phone if both are present? Apple too… Wow… a tangled web this weaves!

    Anyway, just my $.02
    :)

  • Rampage

    Actually Cool (32) they do have the right, read the EULA.

  • Pedro Rodriguez

    Didn’t know Google had that power. I’m assuming that it only works with apps from the Android Market. Does anyone know?

  • Chris

    I’m surprisingly okay with this. Its a little reassuring to know that if there is a malicious app that could damage my device or leak my private information that Google could take care of the issue without me having to stumble upon information on such an app. Google hasn’t give me any reason to doubt their ethics so I almost feel like this is a plus.

  • uuuummmmmm

    This shouldn’t be new news, all carriers can do this.

  • SwampFox

    I think others have already summed it up. Every platform can and should have this ability to save idiots from themselves.

  • Anthony

    Ok, everyone is freaking out about something that is clearly stated in the TOS that you agreed to when you first logged into the Android Market. Oh, you didn’t read that? Well, neither did I, until just now… Anyway, take a look at http://www.google.com/mobile/android/market-tos.html and you will see quite clearly in section 2.4 that Google reserves the right to do exactly what they did, and they don’t have to ask your permission each time because you already gave them permission to do it whenever they deem necessary. And for those saying they should have told you they can do it, they did, you just weren’t listening.
    .
    And yes, I’m sure this only applies to the Market applications, since those are the only ones that Google would have any knowledge are on your phone. That, and you have to agree to the market terms in order for them to do this, so I’m sure the code for the removal is in the Market apk.

  • beidl

    I guess they’re not directly “accessing” phones. I think there is a simple explaination.
    Maybe Google internally marks such apps as malicious and the next time the Market app looks for new updates it sees these apps as malicious and uninstalls them automatically.
    So no direct access is required for Google to uninstall apps from your phone.

  • Dogsby

    @people who are saying this is not news

    Ouch, people, this is still an informative post for those who were not aware of this.

    Thanks for this article…

  • Brian

    Not sure why comments (including the original article) contain language along the lines of “Google accessing your device and removing an application.” It’s not like a Google employee is remote accessing your device, looking around the folder structure, peeking at the naughty pictures of your significant other and then finding the application and deleting it. It is much more automated than that.

    As far as the actual debate as to whether or not an app should be removed – heck ya! I am glad that sort of protection is available. Until otherwise proven, I trust that Google will only use it when needed (unlike Amazon and the 1984 incident). There are way to many people out there who want to do harm, just for fun. This is even more necessary on Android devices due to the ease in which a malicious app can be so easily distributed, even through the Market.

  • Chronos

    @Cool
    They do have the RIGHT to protect users using THEIR market from malicious programs, because YOU signed their Terms of use and to share usage statistics. I am glad they have this ability.

  • Quentyn Kennemer

    @Dogsby (41) That’s usually the goal! ;)

  • Rico

    Didnt know Google had this power, clearly other people did know. Other people have pointed out that Amazon and Apple have this power, but didnt take that statement to its conclusion – this is the reason why I dont have an iPhone or a Kindle. I dont want an organization wielding that kind of power over me.

  • Tim

    How do I opt-out of google having this capacity on MY property?

  • dimachka

    I for one say thank you google. If i want dont want them messing with an app, i am free to install it not using the market. But this helps to know you dont have to think as much about your market apps, googles got your back.

  • Wagster

    @ Gabriel (post 28):

    I was joking about the alleged wifi monitoring from the Google street view cars and the various investigations being launched. Have they broken any laws? Well that’s for the judge to decide…

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/10375623.stm

  • http://www.iwantmyonepointsix.com mjschmidt

    While I also don’t like the idea of Google being able to do this, at least we do have the ability to back up the .apks for apps and reinstall them at will.

    1. DL a filemanager app like Astro.

    2. Back up your apps to the SD card.

    3. Make a backup of those files on your computer.

    4. Bob is your uncle.

    If Goog ever did remotely delete an app that _wasn’t_ malicious, you can keep reinstalling as many times as you like.

    Can iPhone users do that? (Those that aren’t JBed?)

  • erin

    The thing is that if Apple did this, there would be a massive crapstorm and bloggers would be freaking out everywhere. But since it’s GOOGLE and Google says “Do No Evil” then they get a free pass. Hmm.. tech blogs have been fairly quiet about this.
    Even if it’s a malicious app, having Google deleting apps from my phone without any warning sounds pretty damn evil to me. It’s not even the wireless carrier doing it. It’s Google! Yikes.

  • noname

    There are lots of snake oil apps out there that are making thousands (if not hundreds of thousands of dollars) preying on people that think they can get viruses on their android device… providing an app that pretends to find a virus, pretends to update their database and pretends to clean your phone from hazards. This app causes panic and misrepresents the product (android) as being susceptible to viruses. (which it’s not) Google should have the ability to completely wipe the market and the subsequent installations of such fraudulent applications.

  • Mike Leonard

    Seriously, this is a good thing. Google actually listen to their consumers and do good work. This is the first case of this remote app uninstall ive heard of from Google, so theyre clearly not abusing the power and this actually makes it safer for us. If a malicious app got out of control, at least Google can wipe it.

    Im gonna guess that they would never remove a paid for app without alerting someone.

  • R

    Good morning Phandroid, what did you expect? Google built this OS. OF COURSE they can, like Apple can do on the iPhone.

  • DroidDev

    I would be more concerned if they did NOT have a system like this in place. If you all are really that concerned, root your device and remove this mechanism. Not really that difficult. Long live Android!!!!

  • Steve

    WTF is this?
    Fuck it, droid is my last android phone. Nokia here I come.

  • JAG

    GOOGLE will take the world.

    Greeeeeeeeeeeat.

  • Brad

    Old news. This was announced within a month from the G1 release. See here for more details: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/10/16/android_kill_switch/

  • auditd0rk

    As long as it’s in the terms of service users agree to when they first access the Market, fine.

  • klausMachiavelli

    Now if Google didn’t have this in place and a rogue application started stealing data off everyone’s phones, everyone would be whining that they didn’t have this capability.

  • Jaswinder Singh

    I will deal with Google for now. Its just amazing how they took so long to release this information. I paid for the phone and if I have paid for the app than leave it the f alone. Its mine.

    I still refuse to deal with Apple’s controlling behaviour and I will deal with Google or dump them if it becomes the new Apple.

  • gagarin

    Maintaining the marketplace is one thing, putting their hands on my privacy is something else!

    it’s not about google, not even about carriers.

    Eventually we’re simply doing what they’re asking us to do: hens too busy trying to eat as much as we can – and no questions to the farmers!

  • Ruud

    Let’s reverse this. When I have an app installed that does damage to my android device, and Google doesn’t remove it, then what?

    Should I hold Google responsible for the damage, although they have te power to remove it?

  • http://openx2.tk weiman

    not cool. disclosure of this functionality should have been back in 1.0

  • Dave

    @Weiman et al regarding disclosure:

    They *did* disclose from day 1. As pointed out earlier its in the terms and conditions which *you* already agreed to. Just because Google didn’t send a Rep round to your house to explain everything in the T&Cs doesn’t mean they are withholding information. It means you need to read what you are agreeing to.

    Is anyone truly surprised at this? Really?

  • barry99705

    @ Cool

    DUDE you’re BEING a DOUCHE putting all THOSE CAPS in YOUR POSTS. Read the EULA, YOU AGREED TO LET THEM DO THIS!

  • t_e_e_k

    this is no secret. they talked about this a long time ago. and being honest: i trust that google uses this function more responsibly than apple did in the past

  • copolii

    Some of you people just sit there waiting for something to bitch about.
    this has absolutely NOTHING to do with privacy. A malicious app is MARKED AS MALWARE and as the market looks for updates it detects this flag as an update and takes the appropriate action. If this is an invasion of your privacy then so is looking for updates. If you don’t have that certain app installed, nothing happens. Google does nothing ON/IN your device. Your device finds the updated app status and applies the update (which is removal in this case). This might be too much to ask, but please have some common sense.

  • gagarin

    it IS about privacy. Don’t limit yourself at THIS case, and acknowledge that whatever you put in your device becomes, virtually, of public domain. That’s what it is.

  • Crux

    Is this OPEN SOURCE ?!?
    Oh my God !!!!!

  • Crux

    We call it open, but we can’t see thru it, right?

    Let alone the MASTER SCAM…..

    I think it is about time we either admit it is not open and stop using the meaningless “open source”, or really make this thing open?

    Google, what is your take for Gods sake?!

  • Brian M

    I hate them!

    I HATE THEM!

  • Cool

    Barry, the only DOUCHE here is you, caps are for emphasis, don’t like it? To F-n bad, go play in traffic then somewhere. ;)

    I read and know the EULA and TOS and for that matter if your moronic brain actually read my post you will see I started it off with “not a problem”, my post was to highlight the fact that “they can do this automatically”. Now, Windows, or Apple OS have you “SELECT” automation and that is, as it SHOULD be, in my opinion. CAPS for emphasis…

    But here, the removal of an app, they deem for whatever reason, like I said in my post, creates a dangerous precedent. ESPECIALLY in light of the lack of any notification, the removal may seem benign but not necessarily so in every potential or hypothetical instance. Lost data is a real concern and never should something like this be automated. Besides, I want to know the offending app too as there may be others associated with that particular developer that I would want to follow up on.

    EULA or TOS or whatever… funny thing is how many people just go along with this type of crapola. They may have certain rights by those agreements, but you still “own” the equipment and their rights are limited there. These concerns are not because of naughty pictures as stated, lol, but privacy concerns and others as the removal of “control” over your device can have serious subsequent consequences, if that is too difficult a concept to understand, then refrain from the flame wars, because you are obviously out of you element.

    I can just see it, DVD manufacturers updating codecs because their EULA allows it but renders your unit inoperable, or certain videos unwatchable… because they deemed it necessary, how’s that sound? Just another example…

    Chronos, you are correct, but does anti-spyware and virus programs that you use also have this ability AUTOMATICALLY without your consent, to remove INFECTED files? Hmmmm… Not so, and there are reasons for it. Like I said, I agree, it’s a great feature, but notification, even if not required, is the PROPER thing to do if they will remove anything from your handset, dangerous and or damaging and whatever else they deem otherwise.

    Oh, btw, when those of you who aren’t so worried about automated access and such, I guess it won’t trouble you to know about the millions of subscriber location requests made by authorities in the U.S. “outside of warrants” then either.

    So anyway… have a nice day.

    :)

  • Jack the Fusion

    If, and I say IF, Google crooks gets\ away with this Im contemplating Apple. Heck, there is a slight difference: choose Apple and you know what you are dealing with

  • Brad

    Hm I think this is a good thing. If an app goes rogue it has no chance of spreading (by word of mouth or otherwise). Just think if all PC’s in the world had this ability, viruses would not be able to spread very fast. And malware would get its ass kicked.

    I dont see a problem with this. If someone was breaking the TOS then it needs to be stopped, period. With such an open ecosystem there has to be a few tools in place to take care of such emergency situations. What if a fake bank app started making its rounds and stealing user’s info? Google’s removing it for you would be a protection. Dont give me the “But I decide what should be removed or not”. Are you technically savvy enough to know if something is malware? Not everyone is. What’s wrong with someone looking out for you at least a bit?

    -B

  • RattyUK

    “Even if I’ve been following Android’s development since the earlier parts of 2008, I’d never known that Google has the functionality to remotely remove any application from your device that they deem necessary. ”

    I’ve been following Google for as long as they have been chasing Apple and I knew this functionality existed. You are writing for the “Phandroid” site? What are your qualifications exactly? Apart from being a fanboi?

  • Peetah

    Hey Brad my man!

    How abt a little reminder?!

    This is about:
    1) Misleading for being open source
    2) Privacy concerns

    Pillars of what Google is supposed to be in the eyes of majority of Android phans

    This is not whether you personally prefer Google doing some stuff for you or not. Got it?
    This is way way too BIG by any criteria!

  • Germany disappointed

    Ok the wise guys

    Tell us what else can be done by Google remotely?

    Is the list final, the latest, or still in progress?

  • Koltec

    open source?

    ha ha

  • Australia disillusioned as well

    WTF?

  • Ken

    Just wish they could do the same for my PC.

  • Australia disillusioned as well

    @Ken,

    Me too! Actually I use the option on my Ubuntu and:
    a) I am fully aware of it, aware when it starts. Nobody is lying to me
    b) feature is open source

    Get the point?

  • Lactose The Intoleratn

    Guessing this can only be done with free apps… or can they get the money back from the dev when they recall-uninstall?

  • Quentyn K

    @Ratty I hope you aren’t implying that I must have extreme low-level knowledge of Android and that I must read every single word of the tou in order to be qualified to write about it. If that’s the case, you might want to reprimand every tech writer there is about the respective tech they right about because that “qualification” is unrealistic.

  • s

    so does this mean they’ll remove all the youtube downloaders from people’s phones? good thing i back everything up to my SD card.

  • Larry G

    I can’t f…g believe this! outrageous

  • xarophti

    oddly, no one seems to be asking what app it was…

  • Brian

    HEY ALL YOU COMPLAINERS…..READ YOUR MARKET TERMS OF SERVICE. It says they can take your first born also, and you clicked accept without even reading it! LMFAO!!!!

  • Brandon

    until google does it for a shitty reason, im cool with it.

  • Aaron

    Quentyn Kennemer, good job writing an anti-google, anti-android article on an android fan website. Did you get confused and think this was a windows mobile or iPhone fan site?

  • http://www.garfieldtech.com/ Larry Garfield

    Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    “Don’t be evil” only lasts as long as it’s profitable to do so. *No one*, not even Google, should have that kind of power.

  • Jeremiah

    @Aaron,

    WTF?!
    Are you suggesting no one should ever complain about this sort of behavior? What a great reasoning!

    @Brian,

    How about Google admits doing something which is fundamentally anti-open source? What is open source from now on?

  • Captain Obvious

    If you don’t like it, you are more than welcome to send your Android to me and re-activate your Krazr. I hear they are pretty secure.

  • why so serious

    Look at all the childish Apple fanbois crying because a product they’d never buy did something that doesn’t bother anyone using the product. Here’s a newsflash:

    Google asked users for permission to do this when they agreed to use THEIR market to enhance the users PHONE. Don’t like it? Don’t use THEIR market and enjoy your PHONE. It’s like, your CHOICE and stuff. Now we all know you kids hate choice because then you have to think for yourself instead of being a lemming, but it’s part of growing up.

    Google notified the users when they removed the apps. They also posted a blog post, which is the only reason you Apple fans are crying because nobody affected gives a crap. I’ve yet to see a single example of anyone affected that isn’t happy they did this.

    The apps that were pulled were malicious.

    Of course you idiots complaining would rather that malware be installed on the Android phones because you’re an iChild.

    All your childish crying and raging on the internets won’t change what is going to happen to the phone market over the next couple years.

    Deal with it.

  • Jeremiah

    If I dare to complain you suggest I turn to Krazr?!
    Is that the Google attitude?

  • thedicemaster

    people don’t seem to read enough here.
    1-privacy: this has nothing to do with privacy, they don’t check every file on your phone for a malicious one. the market just checks the apps it installed to see if they are outdated or blacklisted.
    2-removal of wanted apps: it’s not like you can’t protect apps from being removed(unlike the amazon/apple stuff), just install your apps through their apk file or a 3rd party market without killswitch.
    oh, and it’s not like google is abusing this ability. so far they have deleted 2 apps, one that scams people and their own test app which they deleted to test this deletion system.

  • http://www.thisstuffishard.com Ron Finnerty

    OK folkes, I doubt google did go into anyones phone to remove an app. I do not doubt that they removed an app from the google marketplace…they house that on their servers.
    Under California law (google HQ is in california if you didnt know that) anyone going into the network or computing device without permission is breaking the law and prosecutable. Do a google search for the exact wording of this law. It was because of laws like this that antivirus companies and others cannot just roll oout a web program to remove viruses from your computer for you …you must specifically allow them to do that.
    GRC.COM has a great article/story about Steve Gibson the security guru and his efforts with the FBI trying to stop a know virus from spreading and being told he could not release a program to automatically remove it from peoples systems without them giving permission.
    so i am not concerned about google reaching into my phone to yank an app out…why woould they bother. i am certain they have a mechanism that would block the bad app and release an update that would notify the user of the issue and have the user make the choice to remove the app or not.
    You all do read all that stuff as you keep clicking yes when installing a new app, don’t you?