January 12, 2010, 8:01 AM — There's a story going around this week about a "rogue" application that was on the Android marketplace. It was created by a user who goes by Droid9 and it was supposed to be an online banking application. What it really did is just collect users' data. The app has since been removed from the marketplace.
There are a couple of interesting aspects to this story. First is that a number of blogs are suddenly doing an about face on the Android Market's more lax approval process when compared to the iTunes App Store. They're posing the question of whether Apple has it right after all; maybe having a draconian approval process is the right way to go.
My answer is no, the Apple way of doing things isn't better, at least not for me. I'll grant you that Android users have to be a bit more tech savvy and a bit more careful than iPhone users, since there's no Big Brother dissecting every app you can put on your phone. That's a small price to pay for the more open platform and the much faster 'to market' time for app developers. Android isn't for everyone, of course. If you're not savvy enough to avoid web-based phishing scams in your inbox, you should probably stick to the safety of an iPhone.
But the story does illustrate one big problem with Android's Market. The First Tech Credit Union issued a post about the problem app on December 22, 2009, but here it is three weeks later and suddenly it's hot news. Why is that? Shouldn't we all have heard about this back in December? The problem is that there's no good way for the overseers of the Android Market to talk to customers and notify them when an unsafe application does slip through the approval process. There needs to be, at the least, some kind of official announcement channel in the Market Widget, and even better would be a way to 'push' alerts to users warning them that an app they've downloaded is problematic. If they can tell me when an update is available, they ought to be able to advise me that an app I've downloaded has been removed from the Market, tell me why it was removed, and suggest I uninstall it if the app was unsafe in some way.
Having a more open Market is a good thing, but with this degree of openness comes a need for better communication between Google and its Android users.