When Google released Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) there was a fantastic and vital feature that came with it. One that wasn’t visible on the surface but for those in the know – the tech savvy and developers among us, it was relatively simple to get to.
This fantastic feature is known as App Ops.
App Ops gave you the ability to very easily disable permissions that certain apps may have been requesting and/or using. For example, if you didn’t want the Facebook app to be accessing your location, you could simply turn off the location permission for the Facebook app.
As shown in the images above, I wasn’t too happy that Facebook required all those permissions so I decided to turn them off. Now obviously the app does require certain permissions in order to function correctly so you need to be weary of what it is you are actually turning off and what effects it may have on the app itself by doing so. In this instance, even with all these permissions turned off, the app still functions correctly.
Now, there are two reasons why I used the Facebook app as an example. One was to show you just how simple App Ops is to use – as you can see it’s just an On or Off switch. Number two, and probably the most important reason was to highlight just how vital this feature is.
As you can see, even with all those permissions disabled, the Facebook app still functions perfectly fine. So why does the Facebook app actually require all those permissions if the app isn’t actually using them for something user facing – something we can actually see or makes the user experience better?
My guess – data harvesting. I think Facebook are simply grabbing as much data as they possible can and they are doing it without you even knowing it. That right there is why App Ops is so vital. This is exactly why it should be made easily accessible to everyone. It gives you a clear insight as to what each application requires permissions to, when it was last accessed, and the ability to disable it.
It gives control back to the user.
Google’s reply to App Ops removal is below:
That UI is (and it should be quite clear) not an end-user UI. It was there for development purposes. It wasn’t intended to be available. The architecture is used for a growing number of things, but it is not intended to be exposed as a big low-level UI of a big bunch of undifferentiated knobs you can twiddle. For example, it is used now for the per-app notification control, for keeping track of when location was accessed in the new location UI, for some aspects of the new current SMS app control, etc.
If we were never meant to see it, why the hell was it left in there to begin with? It’s a pretty big freakin’ mistake to make to be quite honest and I certainly am not the only one somewhat frustrated and annoyed at the decision to remove a perfectly working, highly functional, vital, and very useful feature.
Personally, I think Google may have had every intention of making it available to users at some point but perhaps some app developers, especially the big names such as Facebook who make big money from collecting your data, gave Google a little bit of flack about it.
App developers add all these unnecessary permissions for data harvesting and who knows what else; Google finally gives us a way to easily block those permissions, and now developers are crying foul.
This is just a theory of course but I think it’s a lot more feasible then Google removing it because it was never meant to be using facing in the first place. I highly doubt that to be honest.
It is becoming more and more common that applications and games are demanding more permissions than required do their job. For example, a Flash Light app that requires access to your location. I can not think of one reasonable explanation as to why a Flash Light app would require such a permission, but there are plenty out there that do.
Don’t get me wrong, the majority of app developers produce terrific applications and games that only request permissions necessary to deliver the best user experience. A lot of developers even state quite clearly why their app is requesting such permissions.
Unfortunately, there are a small group of developers who simply can’t be trusted – Facebook being a major one that more people should be weary of. My example above is a clearly shows why.
If Google was afraid that App Ops would break some apps and cause them to function incorrectly, they could have at least buried it deep in the Developer Options or even just kept it hidden like it was, requiring a separate application to access to it – or a custom ROM for that matter.
Those people smart enough to access the Developer Options should be smart enough to realise that by fiddling with such things may cause instability – and that goes for a lot of things in the Developer Options. This would give power users the chance to play with such a great feature while Google works on educating the masses on how to use it correctly. There really was no need to remove it or make it any harder to get to.
Hopefully we see the return of App Ops in the near future and more than that, hopefully it’s made easily accessible to anyone and everyone.