Android Marketplace gets a 'kill switch'
Remember back in August when Steve Jobs confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that a "kill switch" existed within the iPhone API, allowing Apple to remotely disable malicious third-party applications distributed through the App Store? A big brouhaha ensued with lots of hand-wringing about how a closed marketplace wasn't acting like purely free market (shocker). Nevermind that the "kill switch" hasn't actually been used to remove apps from user phones and is actually just a security precaution to protect users against programs that might do actual harm to software devices (or I guess, potentially, mine data), its mere existence was decried and lambasted -- you know, until we all got bored and moved onto the next App Store scandal.
Well, Google has revealed that a similar switch exists within the Android API for Android Marketplace. According to Computerworld, the Android Marketplace Terms of Agreement state, "Google may discover a product that violates the developer distribution agreement ... in such an instance, Google retains the right to remotely remove those applications from your device at its sole discretion."
Thus far, the cries of outrage seem to be fairly muted. Computerworld and Engadget argue that this is because Google is being straight-forward and open about this provision from the get-go -- whereas an iPhone developer discovered the initial iPhone hook, and it was confirmed by Steve Jobs a few days later. I'm sure that is part of it, but I think the users are also more willing to accept this provision because the outrage over iPhone's similar provision passed as merely a blip on the radar.
Additionally, Google has announced that in the event a pay-application is remotely removed from handsets, Google will do everythign they can to recover the money paid to the developer and refund that money back to consumers. Computerworld also notes that the Android Marketplace will have a 24-hour refund policy for paid applications, if users are dissatisfied with the purchase. Initially, all Android Marketplace apps will be free, because Goole hasn't implemented the mechanisms necessary for developers to charge for software. A 24-hour return policy addresses one of the core complaints about the App Store: the inability to try apps before buying. That's a positive move for consumers.
I'm of the opinion that a "kill switch" for Google, Apple or any other official handset marketplace that allows apps to be downloaded directly to the device is a prudent and necessary provision. It will not be in Google's best interest, just as it is not in Apple's, to remove applications for any reason other than security. Although Apple has removed a number of applications from the App Store, the company has not deactivated any of those programs on user handsets. If you bought NetShare before it was permanently pulled from the store, you can still use the program, even if it does violate your carrier agreement. Likewise, Tris, the free Tetris-clone that was pulled because of intellectual property violations, still works for any user that downloaded the program before its removal.
Think about it this way: If Google did not have a mechanism in place to remove an application that could potentially erase, ruin or muck up data on your phone -- or even worse, an app that stole personal information stored on the phone -- imagine the true user outrage, not to mention the very real financial liability.
The first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1 will be released on October 22, 2008. Download Squad will be getting our grubby paws on a phone as soon as our T-Mo store gets them in stock, and we'll be posting about the best software, development tips and tricks and other Googlelicious information.