Earlier this week an FBI task force took an official stance against Android and warned the US population that the OS is prone to malicious malware attacks. Unfortunately, obscure subsections of governmental institutions aren’t great at PR and the limited reach of the missive meant most of the public wasn’t really listening.
But it did manage to send ripples through the tech blogosphere and rouse the old Apple v. Android arguments; because what’s at its core is the difference between Apple and Android love and the coded blueprint to the new global Android future.
When the FBI takes time out of its busy schedule to warn the general public about your product, it’s not generally great news for a product. But few are afraid that the announcement will shake any users. After all, it isn’t really news.
Android has been plagued by whispers of malware, hacks and similar hiccups since shortly after its entrée into the market in 2008. And Android lovers’ general attitude toward malware attacks mirrors the elitism and cliquishness of enthusiasts the world over: “If you’re afraid of a little malware, maybe Android is too advanced for you. Might I recommend something simpler — like an Apple or a Speak ‘n Spell?”
The argument isn’t completely void of validity. As ZDNet blogger Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols put it, many malware threats “require users to go above and beyond the call of stupidity to catch them…malicious programs don’t really infect devices. Maliciously stupid users do.”
The two malware attacks — Loozfon and FinFisher — singled out in the FBI’s statement are pretty easy for most computer savvy consumers to avoid. As Vaughan-Nichols points out, they require you to
“open a suspicious looking email, then follow a link, and then agree, in Android’s case, to download the unknown Android application package (APK).
After that, you have to tell your smartphone or tablet to install it even though it’s not in Google’s Play Store, ignore the malware warning, and then you finally get to infect your device.”
Most Android malware is similarly easy to avoid. But according to Apple fans like self-proclaimed Apple Holic and Computer World tech writer Jonny Evans, this is just another excuse for “Android Apologists” in defense of the indefensible dangers inherent in the Android OS.
And whether you agree with Apple or Android gets down to the heart of the difference between the two camps: tech enthusiasm v. corporate pragmatism. Do you sacrifice a few flaws for cutting-edge innovation? Or do you progress at the speed of Apple for safety’s sake? Are you a Wild West pioneer or a New England cosmopolitan?
For several years, Apple and Android camps have been a defining part of the phone tech community. Unfortunately, they’re becoming less and less relevant. Android may have been the bastion of the tech fringe once upon a time. But it’s 2012 today. And today, Android’s superior phone tech and broad price points have made it the top-selling OS in the world.
And because it’s the superior product (as Samsung loves to point out) Android has been able to climb to the top despite its terrible PR department, inconsistent releases and susceptibility to malware attacks.
But if Android wants to stay on top, it can’t play that game any longer. The FBI’s censure is a welcome mat to the big leagues: Android can no longer play by the Wild West’s rules. It’s at the top. And just like Peter Parker, Android is learning that with great power comes great responsibility.
As Evans points out, companies looking to purchase Android OS don’t have the luxury of ignoring its security flaws. For them, “ a platform’s inherent security is vitally important when your devices have the power to unlock corporate or government secrets.”
And if Android wants to play with the big boys and remain a dominant power, it will have to make concessions and protect all of its users. Even the ones who need protection from Nigerian princes and bank account password change request from email@example.com.
And the change is already happening. The new version of the Google Play app contains some effective if poorly publicized malware protection. And there are rumors that Android OS updates will now be delivered to all Android phones instead of trickling through carriers.
These first overtures are big steps for Android that will carry it further away from fringe faction and permanently into the main stream. I only hope that the progress doesn’t slow Android’s innovation to the speed of Apple. But maybe that will just open the door for other OS’ like Mer project, Sailfish (Mee-Go), SHR or even BlackBerry and start the innovation along the lines of a new frontier.