Google remotely nukes apps from Android phones

The other day Google might have reached into your phone and deleted one of your apps. Did you know they could do that? I didn’t. I’m sure it’s in some fine print somewhere, but it came as a surprise to me. Remember when Amazon deleted certain copies of 1984 from Kindles? Remember the outrage? Should we be outraged now?

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On the Android Developer blog, we learn why they deleted these apps. In Google’s own words:

Recently, we became aware of two free applications built by a security researcher for research purposes. These applications intentionally misrepresented their purpose in order to encourage user downloads, but they were not designed to be used maliciously, and did not have permission to access private data — or system resources beyond permission.INTERNET. As the applications were practically useless, most users uninstalled [sic] the applications shortly after downloading them. After the researcher voluntarily removed these applications from Android Market, we decided, per the Android Market Terms of Service, to exercise our remote application removal feature on the remaining installed copies to complete the cleanup.

So OK, these apps weren’t useful to anyone, and sure enough, the Terms of Service says Google retains the right to remotely wipe apps (see section 2, paragraph 4). And as far as I’m aware, this is the first time they’ve exercised this right. They’ve removed apps from the Market plenty of times, generally for copyright violation. But this is the first time they’ve done a remote delete. So are we willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that this isn’t a Terms of Service clause that will be invoked frequently? Is Google still our benevolent overseer? Or should we be grabbing the pitchforks and torches and heading for Google HQ?

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