The Android Malware Solution
Yesterday, the tech blogs were all aflutter with news of malware being discovered in over 50 apps on the Android Market. A lot of the noise took a critical view of the open nature of Android, speaking of the inevitability of this outcome. The flawed conclusion of the masses was that the choice is between Apple's iOS nanny-state and the wild-west on an Android device. Nonsense.
The problem with the flashy headlines declaring Android to be "dangerous," is that it ignores the safe guards already put in place. Apps are required to ask for permission for any actions needed before they can be installed on your device. If a game of solitaire is asking for access to your contacts, it may be best not to install it. The other important fact that has been buried in these stories is how quickly Google removed the offending apps. Within 5 minutes of being reported, the infected apps had been removed. As far as risks go in computing, smart phones are still relatively safe. It is always a good idea to be careful about what you install on your phone, but it's not unheard of for iOS apps to include hidden code that sneaks past Apple's review board either.
What must frustrate Google the most is that they have already fixed the exploit that allowed the malware to function in the Android 2.2.2. That means had updates been centrally released to all devices with supporting hardware directly from Google, this exploit wouldn't have worked. That’s one area where Google should be more persuasive. There's quite a bit of room for customization without the need to alter the core OS code. Hopefully, future phones will have an easier time upgrading to the current software version.
But what’s the fix right now? Lists. It's time for Google to allow lists to appear on the Android Market. Lists could be determined by what's popular among your social circle, or by allowing users to create lists of their favourite apps and publish them to the market. Staying safe on Android would be as simple as following your favourite Android blogger or sticking to "Google Picks." This isn't a novel idea; bookstores have been doing this for years. Instead of banning books, there are curated lists available. Everything from award winners to staff picks. It may not be completely analogous, but it would still be a good place to start.