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Google kills ‘accidental’ Android feature that kept user data private

Google Data Privacy Feature Removed

Sorry, Android users — Google isn’t going that extra mile to help you keep your data private after all. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, just one day after praising Google for adding “awesome” privacy tools to Android 4.3, has found that Google has actually removed one of those key features in a subsequent update. When asked by the EFF why the feature had been removed, Google only said that it had been put there accidentally and wasn’t supposed to be part of Android 4.3.

The EFF says that the removed feature, called “Ap Ops,” had allowed users to “install apps while preventing the app from collecting sensitive data like the user’s location or address book,” which is something that iOS has let users do for years.

The EFF says that Google should bring back the feature, which it removed with the Android 4.4.2 update, and add other critical protections such as letting users disable “all collection of trackable identifiers by an app with a single switch, including data like phone numbers, IMEIs, information about the user’s accounts.” The EFF also wants Google to find a way to let users disable network access for certain applications that really shouldn’t need it, such as “flashlights, wallpapers, UI skins” and some games.

The EFF also advises Android users to avoid upgrading to Android 4.4.2, although it does concede that the latest update does contain “fixes to security and denial-of-service bugs” that users might decide they can’t go without.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.