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07 March 2008, 05:05

ETech: Google's Android could bring new risks

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The Android open source mobile phone operating system from Google and the Open Handset Alliance could expose users to more security risks than other mobile radio devices currently on the market. Google developer Dan Morrill admitted at the Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego: "That's the price you pay for a wider range of functions". He pointed out that users could install any application on Android, just as on their PC. He said no central authority for testing and signing Android applications was planned. But that inevitably increases the risk of abuse. But Morrill said that the architecture of Android would be designed to minimize the effects of such abuse. The Linux-based Android system uses an independent process for each application. This is meant to prevent malicious programs affecting other applications or essential telephone functions. If a program requires to access data or phone functions, for example to read a number in the address book or make a phone call, the user must explicitly permit this during installation.

Morrill demonstrated the functions of the system with an Android emulator, which is a part of the Software Development Kit already available free of charge. He showed how an Android terminal could read a shopping list from Google Spreadsheets and show it in a suitable format for mobile use. Morrill was also able to edit the data in the spreadsheet application in real time via Android. He claimed that Android was ideal for this kind of online data processing. "What we want is for people to stop talking about going on the net", Morrill commented. "Instead, they should see the net as a constant companion."

The first Android terminals are to come on to the market this year. Android is to be completely open to network operators, hardware manufacturers and end users. According to Morrill, with the Open Mobile Alliance there need be no fear of mobile phone companies subsequently restricting the system. That's why Android would not be using restrictive licence models. Google, he said, wanted to show what potential an open system had to offer, not to lay down a course by means of legal or contractual restrictions.

Google and its Open Mobile partner are not the only people experimenting with an open source system for mobile radio terminals. Smartphones operating under Linux are now also available from Openmoko. At the Emerging Technology Conference on Wednesday, the word was that there had been no active cooperation between the developers of Android and Openmoko so far. "There are no plans for that", Morrill emphasized.

(Janko Röttgers)


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