Google I/O 2015 is shaping up to be one interesting conference, at least based on rumors and “accidental” leaks. We already have a redacted mention of Android M, a new hands-free “Voice Access” experience, and what may be a new wearable. Now Google is rumored to give Android users a new gift too, probably in the next Android version. Insider sources are claiming that the search giant is just about ready to give users more fine-grained control over what an app can and cannot access, strengthening the platform’s privacy controls.
Those who have been closely following Android development in the past years will probably be aware that technically, Android already has the same level of permissions control that iOS users boast of, probably even a bit more. Back in 2013, a hidden app by the name of App Ops was discovered in Android 4.3 Jelly Bean that allowed users to enable or disable particular permissions of an app, whether it be reading contacts, writing to storage, getting location data, or even something like making the device vibrate.
The functionality has always been there, but Google has chosen not to expose it and App Ops was completely obscured in latter releases. Google’s reason for doing so was to err on the side of stability of applications. Developers write apps based on certain presumed functionality, for which they ask permission during installation. Turning those permissions off piecemeal could cause the app to not work or even crash. Of course, this move was nonetheless criticized by privacy advocates for removing such a very useful feature. Currently, users will only be informed of what permissions an app will need and can only either accept them all or reject them wholesale by opting not to install the app.
Now it seems, however, that Google is ready to bring it back, though it is unknown what form it will take or if it will even be the same precise control that App Ops offered. iOS already has a few more privacy controls than Android, though Google definitely improved the situation slightly in Lollipop. That said, knowing Android can do a lot more, this rumored development is more than welcome.
If this insider tip is true, it still doesn’t answer the question about app stability. That said, Android is also capable of having dummy fallbacks, as proven by root apps that try to fill in the shoes left by App Ops. Perhaps Google will provide a way to make these all available to app developers in Android M. This could also tie in with the expected focus on Android for Work, as fine-grained privacy switches would give system administrators a lot more control over work devices.