Privacy Advocates Call on Google to End Android Bloatware

Posted on January 11, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Google with 35 Comments

Privacy International is asking Google to stop bundling apps in Android that cannot be uninstalled, a practice that it says creates privacy and security issues. The problem is especially exploitive of those with lower incomes who can only afford low-cost Android handsets.

“Many Android partners are manufacturing or selling devices that contain pre-installed apps that cannot be deleted (often known as ‘bloatware’), which can leave users vulnerable to their data being collected, shared and exposed without their knowledge or consent,” the charity explains in a blog post. “Privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at least in theory. It is time for this double punishment to end. Being economically vulnerable should not mean losing your fundamental rights and companies have a responsibility to protect their consumers.”

Privacy International partnered with Amnesty International, DuckDuckGo, the ACLU, and about 50 other organizations to create an open letter to Google in which it asks that the Android maker allow users to permanently uninstall every app that is preinstalled on their phones, ensure that its bundled apps same adhere to the same rules as Play Store apps (especially with regards to permissions), allow preinstalled apps to be updated through the Play Store without requiring a Google account, and refuse to certify any devices in which hardware makers or partners try to circumvent these changes to exploit user privacy.

“Pre-installed apps can have privileged custom permissions that let them operate outside the Android security model,” the open letter, addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, reads. “This means permissions can be defined by the app—including access to the microphone, camera and location—without triggering the standard Android security prompts. Users are therefore completely in the dark about these serious intrusions.”

If you’d like to add your voice to this effort, you can sign the petition.

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Comments (39)

39 responses to “Privacy Advocates Call on Google to End Android Bloatware”

  1. Pungkuss

    Can't wait for Google to do this and be sued in Europe for antitrust. Lol.

    • webdev511

      In reply to Pungkuss:

      You think Google would get sued by the EU for allowing consumer choice? If implemented it would be more like the terms of using the Google version of Android, so device manufacturers and governments wouldn't have grounds. If someone wanted to put an undeletable app on a device they'd have to use AOSP.

      • Pungkuss

        Yes I do! Is the Samsung appstore bloatware? Are the apps added by the phone companies bloatware? What if we wanna remove Google's search bar and add another? Every app that Google requires for a license Samsung has duplicated, are those bloatware? This is a lot more complicated than folks realize.
        In reply to webdev511:

        • Paul Thurrott

          To answer your actual questions, yes. The answer is yes. Having two app stores is redundant, so the Samsung store is bloatware. As are most of Samung's other apps. Crap. Most phone company apps are likewise bloatware because they are unnecessary and/or duplicate functionality that comes in the OS. Many can also not be uninstalled. Honestly, it's not all that complicated.
  2. RobertJasiek

    In reply to xamzara:

    Linux and Windows configured for privacy and security are the best choices for this. Apple mobile OSs compete if NO configuration is made. If you only meant smartphone OSs, Windows would drop out. We know that Linux smartphones are scarce.

  3. jf-nyc

    We've come full circle.

    Google is now getting criticized for allowing 3rd party apps on hardware.

    25 years ago, Microsoft was sued by the government for prohibiting 3rd party apps.

  4. Stooks

    I did the same thing in my house. We are Android free!!!

  5. JerryH

    Oh, that's funny. I guess they really mean "don't allow apps to run from the system partition" - because that is how apps become pre-installed and cannot be uninstalled.

  6. codymesh

    It's too late for this now. This should have been brought up before Google pushed the smartphone industry to coalesce around the Android business model of "openness" and customization for OEMs

  7. karlinhigh

    Sometimes there is a way to remove pre-installed wannabe-permanent apps via ADB Shell.

  8. Bats

    Major. Waste. of. Time.

    I have said this before, and I'll say it again.....

    Unless there has been a lawsuit where a single person or entity has shown legal injury as a result of anything related to privacy issues, nothing is going to happen.

    Can bundled apps on the iPhone be uninstalled?

    • ontariopundit

      In reply to Bats:

      "Can bundled apps on the iPhone be uninstalled?"

      Yes. Unless an app is fundamental to the operation of the iphone it can be uninstalled with only a few exceptions (Apple Wallet?... Though I can see how that would be fundamental to how a phone functions now as a wallet replacement). I was amazed by that when I discovered it last time I set up an iPhone 6 for someone. Pretty much only the dialer and the iMessage apps were left.

  9. Andi

    Just like Microsoft cannot control OEM preinstalled "utilities" on laptops neither can Google control what 3rd parties preinstall on their smartphones. Privacy advocates seem dumb for pushing Google for this. Go after carriers and OEMs not Google.

    • cmucodemonkey

      In reply to Andi: Privacy advocates seem dumb for pushing Google for this. Go after carriers and OEMs not Google.

      Agreed! I have used Android phones from various OEM's over the years and have seen varied levels of bloatware. The best so far has been the Motorola G7, which had a few Motorola and Google apps installed, most of which were uninstallable.

    • ontariopundit

      In reply to Andi:

      Google can fully control what Android OEMs put on their Android branded devices. Devices can only be sold as Android if they meet Google's criteria.

      All Google has to do is place certain restrictions on what preinstalled apps can do vis-a-vis privacy in the Android licensing terms.

      It doesn't even have to be an antitrust issue. It only would be antitrust if Google said you cannot install an app even though it meets the security and or privacy criteria Google laid out.

      To say that Google cannot make substantive changes to privacy of preinstalled apps because OEMs are free to do as they please (false) or because of antitrust issues (doubtful) is to let Google off the hook for something that is well within its ability to control.

  10. Andi

    In reply to xamzara:

    Google cannot control what OEMs and carriers do with an open source project like Android. Simple. That's not how software works.

    Also, Google from a monopoly position cannot block Samsung(or other OEM) for trying to push its own redundant apps. They would be liable for anti trust issues.

    Sure it happens on a lower scale but Apple absolutely mines personal data. If it is not Apple then there are 3rd party apps doing it, as Washington Post showed how an iphone was shuffling an incredible amount of data towards 3rd parties on a constant basis.

    One thing where Google has a one up on Apple is transparency. Google offers you real time controls on how much it can collect, if it should or not track you at all across multiple Google properties and even automatically delete backlogs on a cyclical basis. By comparison, Apple is a black box. All it allows you is download all your data or delete it. You don't know squat about how it specifically works with it. Just as you didn't know when they were outsourcing it to 3rd parties(Siri).

    • Chris Payne

      In reply to Andi:

      This is so laughable. Anyone who can claim Google has any leg up on Apple when it comes to privacy is either living in a dreamland or is being paid off. This is anti-Vaxxer level of delusion.

      Selling privacy is 90% of Google's revenue. It is 0% of Apple's.

      I don't know why you even added those last two paragraphs in there; they have nothing to do with the first two.

      • Andi

        In reply to unkinected:

        Google does not sell any data(neither does Apple). This is fact. Apple collects and monetizes data on you. Another fact written in the holy ToS. The difference is scale.

        The last paragraph is about transparency not privacy. Google allows you granular control on what it can do with your data. Apple does not. Simple.

  11. glenn8878

    Interesting that they make a personal request instead of pressuring law makers. They know it's not illegal. If they are so concerned, they would know Google is a major source of privacy violations. It's intrinsic to the smartphone business.

  12. txag

    Google exists by sucking out personal information and selling it. It is what they do. They cannot change; it’s their only way to make money.

  13. Fuller1754

    It'd be great to be able to uninstall Chrome. After I download a good browser, Chrome does nothing but take up space.

  14. waethorn

    This will never happen. Preinstalled apps are part of the goal of getting Android installed on as many OEM devices as possible, Just like the Obamaphone:

  15. MikeCerm

    Maybe privacy groups should just make their own Android-based operating system that respect users' privacy. As long as Google controls the OS, they're going to continue to abuse their power.

    • red.radar

      In reply to MikeCerm:

      But who would allow you to put this OS on a phone ?

      carriers won’t certify it and with locked bootloaders because of “security “ and the inability to root how would you even install it if you could ?

    • ontariopundit

      In reply to MikeCerm:

      There already exist such operating systems. Lineage OS is the biggest of them all.

      The only problem is that there are hardly any phones that allow third party operating systems to be installed and there are even fewer phones supported by these custom ROMs.

      For example, I've owned four Google Pixel and Pixel 2 phones, in theory these phones should be perfect for this. Reality is very different. Out of the four only ONE could have its bootloader unlocked to allow a third party ROM to be installed. And, even the Pixel 2, direct from Google as a warranty replacement, has a permanently locked bootloader (not a Verizon Wireless model).

  16. doon

    I'll be interested to see what they do, and if they do nothing, what the next step is for these organizations.

  17. F4IL

    Clearing all the bloatware will certainly make google's applications (which are default on android) more prominent.

    • t-b.c

      In reply to F4IL:That's a fair point I hadn't considered. If Google won't certify phones that pre-install apps that break the privacy rules then manufacturers like Samsung would have to comply, or drop their apps all together (giving Google apps greater dominance) or not do Android at all. Someone like Samsung may choose to make Tizen handsets instead. Interesting ideas!

  18. hellcatm

    I'm so into that! They should go a step more and stop phone manufacturers and distributors from doing the same. A friend of mine has a Motorola phone and it has so many apps she doesn't use and can't delete its sick. They can put the apps on, but let people uninstall them if they don't want them.

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