What’s Up With Google?

In fairness to Apple in regard to yesterday’s comments about ransomware beginning to appear on OS-X, I should note that Google is having similar issues.

Last month, Infoworld reported that ransomware is showing up on Android devices. They cite an alert from mobile security vendor Symantec about a fake anti-virus app that masquerades as a legitimate app. When launched, it appears to be doing a security scan, and then reports that viruses have been found and asks you to pay for the full version of the scanner to remove them.

If you decline to pay up, it escalates its actions with more virus warnings, pop-up messages, alerts claiming that pornographic images have been found on the device, preventing other apps from being launched, and (of course) preventing itself from being uninstalled. Eventually it gets so bad that the phone is quite literally unusable, and with some versions of Android the app even manages to block access to the factory reset functionality.

There’s a video of the ransomware’s activity in the article linked above, and it’s worth watching even if you don’t have an Android phone. It’s fascinating in a strange, sick sort of way.

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In cheerier Google news, many people have been wondering when we’re going to get some clarity about new versions of Android. Multiple sources are reporting that Google has just sent out invitations for an “event” hosted by Sundar Pichai, the head of the Android and Chrome groups. The event will be next Wednesday, 24 July. No details about the topics for discussion have been released, leading to mass speculation that we’ll find out what’s up with Android 4.3 and/or 5.0.

Several sources, including Engadget are reporting that OfficeMax has leaked planning and pricing documents that state that an updated Nexus 7 will be arriving in stores as early as 20 July, which dovetails nicely with the Google event. Android Central has pictures of what it believes to be the new hardware, though they note that it could be a prototype. If their information is correct, it’s a small but significant upgrade over the current version.

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Good news, bad news: The good news is that Google has fixed a major security vulnerability in Google Glass. The vulnerability allowed an attacker to take over a Glass by showing the wearer a QR code–the mere act of Glass’ camera seeing the code resulted in it acting on the code. The bad news: as with any other software project, there are undoubtedly more security flaws lurking. Realistically, not all of the will be found, let alone fixed, before Glass starts shipping to the public.

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Let’s end on a cheerier note. Dorky as “OK, Glass” may sound as the trigger for Glass to do something, it could have been much, much worse. Multiple sources are linking to Amanda Rosenberg’s post describing the origin of the phrase. Several rejected options are included: “Listen up Glass”, “Device, please” (I suspect that would quickly have become “Please, please, please, please, please), and “Glassicus” (what?)

Unfortunately, the list also includes the one choice that would have made me want to use it:

Yes, “Pew, pew, pew” is on the rejected list. Alas. Not as cheery an ending as I had hoped.

GlassPron

OK, so I’m officially jumping on the bandwagon.

“OMG, Google rejected a porn app for Glass!”

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, “Really? Why is this news?”

Background for those of you who might somehow have been unaware of this: Yesterday, 3 June 2013, Google rejected a Google Glass app because it included dirty pictures. The app in question allowed users to take pictures with their Google Glasses and upload them to a website where others (both Glass users and non-Glass users) could view them and rate them. Since the intent was that pictures would include nudity and/or sexual acts, the app fell in violation of the Google Glass Developer Policies. The relevant clause in the policies was added on Saturday, 1 June 2013 – in other words, the app was legitimate when development began, but was not so legitimate by the time it was submitted to Google.

So, a couple of questions:

1) The app makers, MiKandi (link very NSFW) announced their intention to launch the app on 22 May. Did Google change the policies specifically to allow them to reject the app? To me, it seems likely. Allow me to quote the relevant paragraph: “We don’t allow Glassware content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. Google has a zero-tolerance policy against child pornography. If we become aware of content with child pornography, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and delete the Google Accounts of those involved with the distribution.” The way the paragraph is written feels clumsy compared to the rest of the policy (although I’ll admit that’s a subjective matter), and grouping child pornography with “Sexually Explicit Material” feels like a “we left it out, let’s get it into the policy quickly” reaction, where more thought would have grouped it with “Illegal Activities” or even made it a separate paragraph. Whether I’m right or wrong though, why were these policies not in place sooner? My feeling is that Google was taken a bit by surprise by the vehemence of the backlash against Glass. They probably intended to become more detailed in the policies as they shifted more and more from “developer toy” to “marketable product”, but public reaction is moving faster than they planned, and the perception that they’re “promoting pornography” would ruin their marketing plans. I’ll come back to this point in a moment.

2) Will Google keep porn off of Glass? Of course not. Technically speaking, there’s no way they could possibly keep it off. Even if they wanted to, the nature of the Android ecosystem would prevent it. Even if there is no formal provision for installing non-approved apps, in release versions of the Glass implementation of Android, the functionality is so convenient for developers that it would be politically infeasible for Google to remove it (even if it were technically possible, which I tend to doubt). That means that in all likelihood, the furthest they could go would be to have the functionality there but with the UI to enable it hidden; that in turn means that developers will find a way to enable it, with the result that an ecosystem of alternative Glass app stores will spring up, just as they have for mainstream Android. Even that may be overly complicated. The fact that Glass works in conjunction with apps installed on a phone means that Google-approved (or possibly even Google-supplied) Glass apps can be served porn by less-upstanding apps on the phone.

So why is Google bothering? As I said earlier, Google does not want a public perception that they’re “fostering” or “distributing” pornography. Even a belief that they’re making it possible for people to watch pornography in public would be a public-relations nightmare. Imagine the political speeches and press editorials: “How will our children ever be safe when a Glass-wearing predator can watch pornography while stalking them!” Back in December, Google made the “Safe Search” filters more restrictive to reduce the amount of porn shown in search results – unless the user specifically asks for it by including relevant words in the query. This is a similar move. It allows Google to promote the fact that they’re keeping Glass users safe from the evils of the flesh – unless the user specifically asks for it by installing an app through alternate channels.

My prediction is that by the time Glass is available to the general public, there will be a widely-known, easily-available method to get porn on Glass. Anyone disagree?