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Android's new permissions: Unappreciated by many, disparaged by few

Steven Max Patterson | June 17, 2014
Android users worried about the new Android permissions aren't the users this update was intended to help. The minority of Android enthusiasts know enough to protect themselves against the perceived flaws. The controversy that surrounds this update is clearly an example of what Voltaire referred to when he said "perfect is the enemy of good" two and a half centuries ago.

The more knowledgeable users aren't limited by this change. They can examine the requested permissions in detail on the Play Store or afterwards under the apps section of the device settings.

There is an app called ManifestViewer that that will display an app's manifest that includes all the permissions. The manifest is a complicated XML file that is used to specify the environment during installation that most except for the Android enthusiast wouldn't. The presentation by ManifestViewer is meaningless to the general public. An app could be written that compares the app update's manifest to the previous versions, identifying and presenting the exact change in the lower-level permission within the group. This still wouldn't mean much to most users.

This is an opportunity for a developer, though. An app that could interpret the permission and explain its meaning in plain language would be immeasurably useful. The real challenge is to translate the permissions into terms that those users who otherwise would indiscriminately click through accepting all permissions will understand, take pause, and make good decisions.

Microsoft's approach to these permission decisions is "contact your system administrator." Apple's is to disallow decisions. Android's new approach to permissions is good.


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