Google Slammed Over Android 'Bloatware'

John Lister's picture

50 privacy groups have urged Google to crack down on pre-installed "bloatware" on Android devices. They say the apps haven't been properly vetted and could threaten privacy.

Bloatware refers to software that is already installed on a device when a user first starts it up. With Android phones it's particularly significant as it's difficult or even impossible to uninstall.

Sometimes manufacturers consider such apps to be genuinely useful for phone owners and even part of the appeal of getting a handset. In other cases it seems more likely the manufacturers have struck deals with developers to include the apps, perhaps as a way of subsidizing the handset cost.

Apps Have Unjustified Access

The open letter from groups lead by Privacy International says pre-installed apps carry some specific risks. They come with permissions already granted, rather than being approved by the user when installed. (Source: privacyinternational.org)

This can mean they have access to details such as the phone's location or even to the camera and microphone, without the user necessarily realizing. In some cases there's no obvious reason why the app would need such access given its stated purpose.

The groups also say they are concerned about the level of scrutiny. In one cited study, 91 percent of all pre-installed apps were not available in the Google Play Store, which is used to vets apps for security checks.

Letter Demands Users Can Delete Apps

The letter calls for Google to make four changes:

  • Let users completely uninstall such apps, making sure they don't continue running in the background.
     
  • Insist that any pre-installed app goes through the same security checks as those made available for download in Google Play.
     
  • Make sure all pre-installed apps can receive updates in case any bugs are spotted.
     
  • Refuse to let a phone carry the "Google Play Protect" certification unless any pre-installed apps meet all these conditions. (Source: zdnet.com)

What's Your Opinion

If you use an Android device, did it come with any pre-installed apps? Have you been frustrated by being unable to delete such apps or discover what they are actually doing? Would you be prepared to pay extra for a phone that didn't have any bloatware?

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Average: 5 (9 votes)

Comments

Dennis Faas's picture

I had an app called "peel smart remote" on my Samsung S6 Edge that came installed by default. I never used the app. Suddenly my phone started displaying full screen popup advertisements. I had no idea what was wrong. I did a malware scan and nothing came up. I then discovered it was the Peel Smart Remote which was installed on my phone. This app could NOT be uninstalled as it came bundled. The only way to stop the madness was to "force stop" then "uninstall updates", which rolled it back to the factory version and effectively disabled it. I cannot believe Samsung would allow such a steaming pile of poo on their phones!

doulosg's picture

Microsoft was always known for bloatware in Windows. When do-no-harm Google came along, one might have thought they'd be different. They're not. Bloatware is the problem; not privacy. But if privacy issues is the lever that can be used to get rid of it, let's do it!
I want to purchase a device, or a system, that let's me-the-user decide what capabilities to add to it beyond the basic operating system. Keep the crap off! For what we pay for smart-a$$ phones, we should not have to pay extra for a clean system.

e5chultz_3890's picture

While there are some Google apps that are not of use to and can't be uninstalled, the majority of preinstalled bloatware is from the manufacturer or carrier.
You can eliminate the carrier bloat by buying an unlocked phone from a retailer. Manufacturer bloat can't be circumvented as easily. Perhaps, it should be criteria for your purchase decision. Personally, I avoid several brands, in preference to a vanilla android install. If more people voted with their wallets, this would become a moot point.
Asking Google to wall off the Android garden would significantly reduce the variety of available apps.

neomartin44_4508's picture

I have always asked why you can't get rid of pre installed apps that I don't use as they are imbedded and I don't know any one who use them either. So how do the makers know what do the user's want. I think you should be able to opt out of any apps instead of being forced upon the user. The device will have room for more apps chosen from the play store.
Some new mobiles only come with 8GB room and are not able to get updates or even add many chosen apps.

PseudoGeek's picture

The changes called for by Privacy International are long overdue. Samsung would have quite a sales advantage if they adopted them.

I was shopping for a new tablet a while back in Costco. Another gentleman was looking at the same Samsung tablet that I was interested in. We struck up a conversation, and he mentioned that he generally avoided Samsung products because there's so much bloatware on them that it cuts way down on the usable storage. So he left without buying one.

I bought one and when I got home I found that he was right. So far it hasn't caused any problems I'm aware of, but I'm considering rooting the tablet to get that junk off. I hesitate because I don't want to delete something that's actually necessary for proper operation of the device.

Dennis, do you have a guide to rooting Android devices somewhere on your site?

Dennis Faas's picture

Rooting the phone or tablet varies by manufacturer, device, and model.

Generally speaking Samsung phones can be re-flashed using Odin, but even so, a flash does not mean you'll get a rooted operating system (or one without the bloat).

Most of the time if you buy a new phone or tablet, you will have to wait for an exploit to be discovered in order to root it. From here you can either use the exploit assuming your device isn't up to date, or re-flash the operating system to a previous version with an exploit (if possible).

You can search XDA forums for a guide on how to root based on make / model, but that might make your head spin. A lot of the posts I've come across are written in uber geek and expect that you understand rooting acronyms like "CWM" (clockworkmod).

PseudoGeek's picture

Yes - I've gotten as far as reading and watching videos, but the uber-geek terminology always makes me wonder if I understand enough to keep from making my nice tablet into a useless doorstop. That's why I was hoping you had written something understandable, but that's not realistic given the vast numbers of different devices you'd have to cover.

rohnski's picture

Why does MS do it? Why do hardware makers do it?
.
Because the makers of the bloatware PAY to install it. Even a few dollars a copy adds up to millions, they sell lots of devices.
.
Years ago some PC hardware makers offered a "Signature" installation of Windows without crapware, from the factory. It only cost an extra $100 ...
.
We USED to have the option of doing a "clean install" of Windows from MS, to get rid of hardware maker crapware, but now that MS is adding crapware it is less effective.

Jim's picture

I root my phones. I'm in control over what apps are on them, not Samsung, not Google, and not T-Mobile.