Months after Apple sparked uproar for building a 'kill switch' into its iPhone software, it has emerged that Google Android also includes a feature which allows the company to remotely remove applications from smartphones based on its platform.
According to Google's Android Market terms of service, "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."
That item is one of a few hints of things to come in the 'About phone' section of the device, which also alludes to some hitherto unknown people and companies that were instrumental in developing the software.
The G1, the first phone to run the Android software developed by Google, is expected to hit the UK on October 30, and many people are getting their first in-depth look at it because T-Mobile has loaned the devices to reporters. The Android Market is the online store accessible from the phone where users can download applications.
Android users might be more receptive to Google's remote kill switch than iPhone users were to Apple's for a couple of reasons. First, Google is being upfront about it. Apple didn't confirm the capability for the iPhone until days after a developer discovered it.
In addition, Google says that if it does remotely remove an application, it will try to get users their money back, a question that iPhone users have wondered about in the case of an iPhone application recall. Google said that it will make "reasonable efforts to recover the purchase price of the product... from the original developer on your behalf."
If Google fails to get the full amount back, it will divide what it gets among affected users.
Google may have more need to use a kill switch than Apple. That's because Apple vets applications before putting them into its Apps Store. Anything goes in Google's Android Market, opening the chances of malicious or otherwise unwanted applications appearing in the market.
The Android Market business and program policies also include an item that says users can return any application for a full refund within 24 hours of the time of purchase. In the absence of a trial version of applications, this offer will let users return an application that might not deliver exactly what they expected.
Android Market users can also reinstall as many times as they wish an application that they buy, another useful feature in case a phone fails. For now, all applications in the market are free because Google hasn't yet set up the mechanisms to allow developers to offer them for purchase.
People around the world - phone users or not - might also be pleased to learn about this item listed in the Android Market terms of service, in all caps for extra effect: "None of the products are intended for use in the operation of nuclear facilities, life support systems, emergency communications, aircraft navigation or communication systems, air traffic control systems or any other such activities in which case the failure of the products could lead to death, personal injury, or severe physical or environmental damage."
That's not the only bit of levity to be found on the phone. The G1 comes with a text-only scrolling video listing contributors and offering special thanks. After a pause, at the very end, Google assures us that "no robots were harmed in the making of this product".
While the contributors video refers to the Open Handset Alliance - the group of companies backing Android - without naming all the members, it thanks contributors that many industry observers may not have known were involved in the creation of Android.
Andy Missan and Jason von Nieda are the only people called out by name under the special thanks section. According to Missan's website, he has worked as legal counsel for MobiTV, ReplayTV and WebTV. He also worked for Danger, the company recently acquired by Microsoft and founded by Andy Rubin, who later started a mobile software company called Android that Google acquired.
On his website, von Nieda describes himself as a Seattle-based "computer programmer, systems administrator, network engineer and all around good guy".
Other companies listed as contributors or given special thanks include Swedish software technology and design company The Astonishing Tribe; Swiss engineering company Noser Engineering; media player developers Hooked Wireless; Indian consultancy Satyam; mobile software and services providers Core Mobility; and designers Mike and Maaike.