Google confirms Android kill switch

With T-Mobile USA scheduled to release the HTC-produced G1--the first commercial handset based on Google's Android mobile OS--on Wednesday, Google has confirmed the existence of a so-called "kill switch" that would enable the web services giant to remotely disable applications from an Android-based device. Computerworld first reported on the kill switch, noting the terms of service for Google's Android Market read "Google may discover a product that violates the developer distribution agreement ... in such an instance, Google retains the right to remotely remove those applications from your device at its sole discretion." Google explains that the kill switch exists to protect users from malicious code, and that if any commercial software is removed from an Android device, the company will refund the consumer as well as seek financial restitution from the developer who created the app.

So far, developers are sanguine about the kill switch, telling ChannelWeb they weren't previously aware of the mechanism but expressing little surprise over its discovery. "We're not making malicious apps. It should be fine and I totally understand why they'd want to do it," said Jeff Kao, co-founder of Ecorio, one of the winners in the recent Android Developer Challenge. "We've done some things ourselves that a user might not like that we've had to tweak. For example, some services might run in the background and drain battery life without the user knowing it."
Apple stirred up its own controversy this summer following an independent engineer's discovery that each iPhone contains code that could theoretically remove software from the device at Apple's discretion. In a subsequent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Apple CEO Steve Jobs argued such a kill switch is necessary in case a malicious program is mistakenly added to the App Store: "Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull." Digital privacy and security advocates nevertheless questioned Apple's motivations, asking what kinds of safeguards are in place to guarantee the security of the kill switch itself.

For more on the Android kill switch:
- read this Computerworld article