Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

Summary: Android has become a Frankenstein monster says the New America Foundation, whose board chairman is Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

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TOPICS: Android, Google
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Free "the people" and you free people. Free a monopolist and you unleash a monster.

It is now obvious that it's the latter step Google took with Android and folks in Washington are starting to take notice.

The New America Foundation, a liberal think tank founded in 1999 whose board chairman is (ironically) Google CEO Eric Schmidt (right), is out with a series of reports by four key members of its technology team, sounding the call.

Android has become a Frankenstein monster, they write, and the good doctor needs to face the consequences.

The most captivating charge is that T-Mobile is willfully violating the spirit if not the letter of Librarian of Congress James Billington's July order stating that consumers have a right to control the software on their phones.

At issue is an HTC-installed chip on T-Mobile's new G2 Android phone that prevents users from modifying the software on the phone.

"One of the microchips embedded into the G2 prevents device owners from making permanent changes that allow custom modifications to the the Android operating system," the team writes, and T-Mobile confirmed this in a press statement.

This has political implications, the team writes in a follow-up:

The fundamental question the FCC now needs to answer is not if developers will find a way around the latest blocks, but if companies should be allowed to continue actively blocking users from truly owning and having full control over the mobile devices they buy in the first place.

What this means is that Schmidt is now in a political bind, as well as a business one. A group he chairs accuses him of allowing monopolists to run roughshod over consumers. Rhetoric about "open source freedom" is not going to answer these charges.

The choice is either to take control of Android, both in the name of users and the Google brand, or to resign from the New America Foundation board.

Topics: Android, Google

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19 comments
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  • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

    As a T-Mobile customer, I'm okay with them trying to make sure my phone works correctly. Google might want to make an option available for those that want the ability to mess things up, along with that responsibility.
    steveplunkett
    • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

      @steveplunkett Whatever Google wants, it can't have it, if you read the article.
      DanaBlankenhorn
    • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

      @steveplunkett You obviously missed the point. People have been annoyed with the crapware that cell service providers place on their phones for years. With windows mobile you have to flash a custom rom to get rid of their crapware that takes up a significant amount of space on the phone. I have a lg expo with AT&T and out of the box there is maybe ~40mb of available storage out of 200mb because of the software and files that they place on the phone which you cannot delete. They even place crappy music on the phone that you can't delete. I flashed a custom rom just to get rid of that stuff and had 190mb of available space, PLUS the phone actually ran better than it did before. With android, users were supposed to have the option of having full control over the OS, but again carriers place restrictions on the phones. They do this under the guise of wanting to protect customers from installing potentially detrimental software on the phone, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to remove the trail-ware and useless apps they put on it. I just got the Sony Xperia x10 with Android from AT&T and they have an app called Where that is preloaded, and if you run it without reading the fine print you get automatically signed up for the service after the trial is over. The only way to cancel it is to go to their website and cancel it. I seriously doubt that the phones need the carrier's navigation apps, crappy music and video apps, and other preloaded crap to "work correctly". Plus if it WERE open and you wanted to make sure it ran correctly, are you telling me you wouldn't have the will power to keep yourself from installing any app you found? The only apps I've loaded that were not in the market were Swype and x10 Root. Google even has tools for android (screencast) that require your phone to have root access to be fully functional. I don't install apps that are not in the market because the market can tell which apps are compatible with my phone. If it's not in the market, I probably won't want to install it because it may not work. I knew swype would work which is the only reason I installed it.

      Open source is supposed to be open to everyone, not just open to the carriers to lock down for their customers.
      SpiderTech
    • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

      @steveplunkett Well carriers have their ROM's loaded on the devices when you buy them. ROM's that are supposed to (and usually do) work as intended. But carriers are blocking Google's apps, not supporting Google products, and making people unable to modify the software on the device. All of these things go against both Open Source and Google itself.
      Jimster480
  • I guess it was inevitable that the open source nutjobs...

    would obsess over phones and ultimately cause tax dollars to be wasted because some lame corporation can't compete. If you don't like your phone, buy another one.
    jackbond
    • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

      @jackbond Trouble is there is no alternative to a carrier phone if you want cell coverage. Would you say the same thing about PCs if, your ISP were trying to engage in this kind of control?
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

        @DanaBlankenhorn I doubt he would, because he wouldn't see it that way. Even though its fundamentally the same thing.
        Jimster480
  • Sounds like "open source freedom"

    is just the big companies' way of saying: Lets stick it to the little guy.
    iPad-awan
    • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

      @iPad-awan No. Companies are taking open source and making it closed with hardware.
      Jimster480
  • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

    i own a g2 and to say the little im PISSED. the whole reason of purchasing a android phone is because of the open source code. they have no right doing this
    p33875
  • T-Mobile (i.e. the carriers) will win

    I hate to say it. But I have a strong feeling the carriers will win this battle? Why? There was just an article out where T-Mobile responding to some government agency (can't remember exactly who) told them that one lone developer nearly took down their entire network with an improperly coded application. It could all be BS for all I know, it could have been a carefully worded rebuttal to save face. But a good point or good BS no less.

    The carriers can and will always say they need to protect the integrity of their network(s) to ensure reliable service to the majority, not just the minority (i.e. hackers, power users).

    Do I agree? No, I'd much rather have the freedom to do what I want with my phone. However, as an Information Technology professional I understand where the carriers are coming from. Much like we don't allow clients or employees to bring in their own laptops and connect into our network to protect the integrity of OUR network, since we cannot validate that their equipment meets our security best practices and standards.

    I do believe that putting a chip in the phone to prevent modding was a bit ridiculous. Like anything, the real motivation behind these implementations has everything to do with money. We don't want you having root/hacking your phone because you might be able to bypass certain code allowing you to (for example) wirelessly tether for free without paying another $30 (Verizon) for tether capability.

    We (the carriers) want to control what you have access to for revenue generating purposes. If we replace Google with Bing (Verizon) on our Samsung Captivate, we get to earn revenue from Microsoft.

    The other issue here is that Google's Android OS has been a blessing and a curse to carriers. Think about it. On one hand Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc have competition for AT&T and the iPhone. They can finally have iPhone-esque like devices without Apple.

    The downside is they're forced to be "open", so open that it allows consumers the ability to make choices! Why would someone pay Verizon for VZ Navigator when you can get free turn-by-turn directions using Google's Navigation on your Android phone. Why use VCast when you can use a ton of other FREE apps in the Android Market. Carriers are losing that little extra revenue they were taking in. Of course they could be gaining subscribers and of course everyone's still charging that mandatory data fee for smart phones but let's face it, carriers are greedy! They want it all.
    derrickisONLINE
    • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

      @derrickisONLINE They weren't getting that revenue in the first place. Because people weren't paying for it before with their dumbphones. They are making more money than ever, and are ripping people off blindly with crappy services that cost them NOTHING to maintain. Yet they want to charge customers out the ass for it. Of all the carriers using Android I think Sprint has the right idea. None of their phones have any lockdown BS, all their plans include all the "Sprint Services" such as the navigator, etc. And all their phones support all the google apps out of the box and come with only a few "Sprint Applications". Verizon is a pretty crappy provider in terms of pricing and it always was. So its no surprise that they are trying to lock down android to make more profit from crappy services.
      Jimster480
      • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

        @Jimster480
        verizon's need for full control is probably why apple passed them up on the iphone.
        mookiemu
  • Mainly a US issue I guess

    Over here in little old Blighty, you can easily buy phones SIM-free and then get a contract to fund them - so the phone is not locked to the provider nor can it be locked by them. Surely that is an option in the US if you try?

    Phones that come on contracts are really leased from and supported by the network, so really you should expect the network to do what it can to minimise its support costs. Judging by some of the stupid things I've seen posted on Droid/Milestone forums, it is probably essential to lock the phone to the way it is provided or the contract monthly charge would need to be doubled...
    putt1ck
    • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

      @putt1ck No way would it need to be doubled. Carriers are already raking in the dough with their high prices. They don't need to have crapware on the phones to make more money. They are just greedy as hell.
      Jimster480
  • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

    This article misses the point. Google is not the problem. the carriers are and always will be. Do you think at this point Google really has that much authority over the carriers (NO). The TMobile thing sounds odd and problem should be addressed independently. The carriers have been crippling the phones for years and charging you to use features that were originally built into the phone. this is nothing new and will continue until a new carrier breaks the mold (which Google could do with its acquire dark fiber). As far as tweaking the OS, this is just a geek complaint. As far as removing crapware, yes this should be able to be done period (I can happily remove crapware off my Sprint EVO without jumping through too many hoops). Personally, you should have a clean option (I believe Sony has this on their custom laptops called "Fresh Start"). that would be nice
    gbohrn
    • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

      @gbohrn
      I have the sprint evo and I can't remove the amazon mp3 app which just decides to run on it own.
      mookiemu
  • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

    Or....Google (and Schmidt) could just continue to do nothing, relying on the fact that the masses don't care and will keep buying what they're selling.
    gnostication
  • RE: Google passivity over Android becoming a political liability

    At this point, even if Google wanted to, could it realistically reassert control over how the carriers use Android? What would be the fallout?
    goldflow