Android 4.3 Jelly Bean brought the first significant privacy tool to manage data permissions, allowing users to toggle what apps could access their data and how much of it could be read or tracked.
Then, in Android KitKat 4.4.2, they took it away.
The App Ops privacy feature, a hidden UI that could be exposed and controlled through third-party launcher apps, let users selectively disable app permissions such as reading the user’s address book, tracking his or her location, or sending messages and notifications.
A day after praising the App Ops feature as a step forward for Android privacy, Pete Eckersley, technology project director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote a blog post confirming that App Ops had been removed from the latest Android KitKat release, 4.4.2.
When asked for comment, Google told the EFF the feature was only released in Android 4.3 by accident, and that its use may violate app policies. Eckersley and the EFF were skeptical of this rationale, to say the least.
“If app privacy is especially important to you…we would have to advise you not to accept the update to 4.4.2,” Eckersley wrote. “But this is also a catastrophic situation, because the update to Android 4.4.2 contains fixes to security and denial-of-service bugs. So, for the time being, users will need to choose between either privacy or security on the Android devices, but not both.”
Google Android engineer Dianne Hackborn elaborated on the reasoning behind removing the App Ops UI on Google+ in response to developer questions.
“The current UI is definitely not something that is appropriate for end users; it is mostly for platform engineers (a tool for examining, debugging, and testing the state of that part of the system), maybe someday for third-party developers,” she wrote.
Those who’ve upgraded to Android 4.4.2 shouldn’t expect to see an official App Ops feature back anytime soon, but those with a rooted device or who want to install CyanogenMod can take steps to re-implement the feature. The App Ops feature is still available on Android 4.3 and 4.4.