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Google Android: freephone toll

You might get more than you bargained for

Google, the company whose name has become the generic verb for searching the internet, would have you believe it’s a benevolent provider of free goodies. Just look at all the cool stuff it gives away for free!

As well as the best search engine in the business, Google gives you free access-anywhere email with Gmail. You can write and share documents online with Google Docs, and Google will also take care of all your calendar needs. It even provides you with a social network for sharing the minutiae of your life with others.

Publishers and webmasters enjoy the free fruit of Google’s Analytics, which lets site owners know plenty about each visitor that lands on their own pages. Tracking cookies and JavaScript tricks also give Google the means to then follow these visitors and observe their habits as they move to the next trip-wired Google affiliate. See Android Advisor

Fact is, a lengthening list of improprieties means the smoke and mirrors of Google’s ‘do no evil’ slogan are steadily lifting.

Google took Java, Android’s programming language, from Sun (now Oracle), and emerging internal company emails acknowledge that Google knew it really ought to pay the licence.

Then there’s Google’s ‘accidental’ capture of untold gigabytes of private data when it intercepted and recorded private Wi-Fi traffic with its Street View cars. It was recently fined $25,000 for failing to assist authorities with their inquiries over the matter.

A more punitive fine may be on the cards soon, though, after Google deliberately subverted the cookie privacy mechanism of Safari browsers, ensuring that it could still track Mac users who had opted out of receiving its tracking cookies.

Open the gates!

For plenty of gadget lovers, Google is the outstanding benefactor that provides a free alternative to the iPhone’s operating system. For those who appreciate the value of open-source software, Google has even opened the platform for all to see. Hurrah!

And so comes the inevitable warning about Greeks bearing gifts. It’s sublimely ironic that Google’s mobile phone platform is now the most popular vehicle for Trojans since Odysseus gave the people of Troy their timbered equine present.

Perhaps the biggest bluff, then, is the way many smartphone users have been led into believing that because Android is an open-source system it’s thereby better for the user and for freedom. Guess what, it’s not that open and I don’t think freedom here is better.

Google Android is in essence another clever way to extend the company’s reach, putting targeted adverts in front of a heavily profiled mass audience. True, it gives you the freedom to install apps from absolutely anyone – apps that could contain absolutely anything. You’ll need to keep up your guard.

One answer might be to run antivirus software on your Android phone. This is frustrating enough in desktop computing and, as the latest lab results from AV-Test have established, most of the antimalware products available for Android aren’t fit for purpose. See Best Android apps

Mobile phones are used in distracting environments, and we need assurance of our personal security first and foremost. The average phone owner cannot expected to become an IT sysadmin responsible for locking down the portable computer in their pocket. Even, or especially, when it’s ‘free’.

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