Privacy Organizations Sign Open Letter To Google About Android Bloatware

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Android bloatware. It's a phrase that Android users know about all too well. A group of over fifty organizations have written an open letter to Google to do something about the Android bloatware problem and thus, take security seriously.

What is Android Bloatware?

Android Bloatware is a term that refers to the "bloat" on Android devices. "Bloat," similar to "bloated," refers to the feeling one gets when he or she feels too full after eating dinner, for example. The same term comes into play when referring to storage on Android smartphones. Many Android smartphones in the market come with "bloatware," apps that consume lots of storage. That apps are placed on Android devices by phone makers themselves. The same can be said for Google, who once required Android phone makers who wanted Google Play Store access to provide certain Google apps on their smartphones such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Photos (no longer required), Google+ (now "deceased"), and so on.

Phone makers also add their own apps as Google alternatives. LG, for instance, offers its own QuickMemo app as a Google Keep Notes alternative. Samsung has its own slew of apps and also provides its own App Store called 'Galaxy Store'. Phone makers place their own apps on their own phones with Google approval.

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The problem with Android bloatware

One problem with Android bloatware is that it consumes needed space on Android smartphones. That leaves reduced amounts of storage space for desired apps. If an Android smartphone comes with 16GB of storage, but the operating system consumes 5GB of storage and bloatware consumes 3GB of storage, then only half the original storage space remains. Some apps may not be downloaded, and a user may have to rely on Google Photos for photo storage instead of his or her device storage.

Another problem with Android bloatware is that it poses a huge security risk for users. This is the reason behind the open letter to Google. It's here to tell Google to start taking preventive measures against these pre-installed apps. What few users know is that these pre-installed apps have custom permissions that avoid Google Play Protect detection. These custom permissions allow phone makers to collect data on customers against their consent.

As long as these apps remain on smartphones and can't be deleted, their processes continue to run in the background and collect user data continuously. 91-percnet of the pre-installed phone maker apps aren't found in the Google Play Store. That means they don't have to "play nice" with Google Play Protect scans or Google rules in general. This unregulated nature of OEM pre-installed apps forces customers to give up their data without consent. That betrays personal on-device information that should be restricted to users and Google only.

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What privacy organizations are doing about Android bloatware

Privacy organizations state the problems with storage and security and request that Google regulate pre-installed Android bloatware. First, customers should be given the right to delete any pre-installed apps they desire. The same goes for background processes apps have access to. Even when users disable apps, their background processes can still run without user awareness.

Next, privacy organizations believe that pre-installed apps should be mandated to come from the Google Play Store and thus, be subject to Google Play Store protection policies. Whenever an app is updated, for instance, it should be reviewed by Google Play Protect. That should happen to ensure that the new update isn't more privacy-intrusive than it was previously. This ties in to the necessity of all pre-installed apps having updates through Google Play, as is the case with all Google Play apps.

Perhaps that's the reason why the majority of pre-installed apps are not available at Google Play. They don't respect Google Play privacy and security rules and continue running in the background even when disabled. The fact that these apps are not subject to Google Play Protect and Google Play rules in general makes them suspect altogether.

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The open letter to Google was signed by 53 privacy organizations. Those organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, privacy-championing web browser company DuckDuckGo, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and The Tor Project.

Google, Android OEMs, and Users: Political and personal issues

The issue between pre-installed apps on Android phones (phones running Google's operating system) and user experience highlights a constant problem between Google and Android OEMs on one hand and users on the other. Google makes its own deals with Android phone makers, who then craft smartphones running Google's Android that users enjoy. By making smartphones that users buy, Google and Android OEMs believe they're providing a great experience for users. But baked into that user experience, however, are apps that drain and disclose personal information and user data. That violates the consent of users themselves.

Google and phone makers believe that accessing private user data on smartphones is "a small price to pay" for a great Android phone experience. Some users aren't aware of the price they're paying to have access to certain apps and services for free, though.

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Staff News Writer

Deidre Richardson is a tech lover whose insatiable desire for all things tech has kept her in tech journalism some eight years now. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned BA degrees in both History and Music. Since graduating from Carolina in 2006, Richardson obtained a Master of Divinity degree and spent four years in postgraduate seminary studies. She's written five books since 2017 and all of them are available at Amazon. You can connect with Deidre Richardson on Facebook.

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