Google Exercises Mobile Authority, Remotely Nukes Apps from Android Phones

Paul Lilly

For the first time ever, Google has gone and pushed the big red button labeled "Remote Application Removal." In doing so, the sultan of search remotely wiped out a pair of free apps from hundreds of Android smartphones, and felt justified in doing so because the apps ran afoul of Android's Terms of Service (TOS), Google said.

Jon Oberheide, the developer who coded the apps and voluntarily removed them from the Android Market after Google asked him to, described the software as proof-of-concept programs. Oberheide says he wanted to find out if how difficult (or easy) it would be to distribute apps that could later be used to launch an attack and seize control of handsets.

"An attacker who develops legitimate-looking apps and distributes them on the Android Market could gather a large install base and if there was a vulnerability within the Android operating system or Linux (upon which Android is based) the attacker can phone home to see if there is an exploit to download and push it out to all the phones he controls and take complete control of the phone via the kernel," said Oberheide, who works at a security start up called Scio Security.

Those who installed one of Oberheide's apps -- one of which was disguised as a preview of the Twilight Saga: Eclipse movie -- received a message that read "Hello World."

While Oberheide's apps were harmless, they could have just as easily been malicious. This all begs the question, should Google have exercised, or ever exercise, its right to push the big red button and nuke your apps from afar? Users seem split on this one, with some saying it's no big deal, while others are downright pissed that Google would use its authority on harmless apps.

What's your opinion? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

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