The Kill Switch In Phones – Breach Of Freedom?

Imagine the feeling when the application you installed in your mobile phone has completely vanished! There is a high possibility of this happening, courtesy the “kill switch.”

This killer is being used in many areas in various forms:

A “dad man’s switch” stops vehicles and machines, in case the operator has problems and loses control. A kill switch at pumping stations is used for gasoline pumps and other devices that pump flammable or explosive chemicals. Even treadmills have a “safety key” that comes into action when a person trips or falls.

In IT language, a kill switch is a security measure used to shut off a device or a program. Where software is concerned, the software is rendered useless to users if it is pirated and not obtained in the right way.

Kill Switch in Apple and Google

Coming to the mobile phone segment, kill switch has been incorporated by Apple in the iPhone. Through these switches, the company has the capability of uninstalling or deleting any application that they think should not be on your phone.

This was not something Apple made a whole lot of noise about and preferred to let silence rule – until people discovered it for themselves and the world was up in arms.

The iPhone quietly connects to Apple’s servers to check an application blacklist, and disable any apps that should not be there.

Now, Google also seems to be following Apple’s lead and has made a similar inclusion in its open-source Android platform. This leader of Web search, with the help of cookies already keeps tabs on the searches that are done from your PC. It is almost like someone peeking into your screen while you are surfing the Web, and now the kill switch in the Android phone.

Google mentions it in the terms and conditions or the license agreement, which says, “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.”

Difference between the two

However, there is a difference between the two switches. With Apple, only Apple’s applications can make their way into the mobiles; however, Google has made it clear that it is not going to control whose applications are used, but has the switch only to ensure malicious applications that are potentially harmful to the user’s personal information and to the phone are not used.

Google and Apple have explained the reasons behind having the switches.

Google says that an open-source application makes the phone prone to attacks, and this switch is in the best interests of the users.

Steve Jobs stated that Apple needs this capability, in case it allows a malicious program inadvertently – something that stole personal data of the user. He said, “Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull.”

Breach of Freedom?

The lever that Steve Jobs talked about seems to be pulling a whole lot more than Apple bargained for, in the form of criticism from users.

This move by Apple and Google is perceived by many as a breach of freedom, as it means letting vendors break into the users’ private life and compromise on privacy. Some users have even gone to the extent of saying that Apple wants draconian control over their devices. Subscribers not only use the mobile phone to store music, contact lists, photos but also to surf the Web and check e-mail. They believe this feature can also be abused by hackers to spy on people. They do not like the idea that Apple and Google are playing self-proclaimed cops by saying they are doing this for the protection of the users.

People, who look at the whole issue of the kill switch with different eyes, say that collection of data is not new and several companies collect user data. For example, Handango, knows all about the phone models used and applications bought by their users. Even Nokia and Microsoft are said to have their own “kill switch” tools; although they are limited in scope when compared to Apple.

Through the whole thing, Apple did not respond to any of the requests to comment, but they have put up a disclaimer on their website, that says, “We collect information regarding customer activities. This helps us to determine how best to provide useful information to customers and to understand which parts of our websites, products, and Internet services are of most interest to them.”

Apple can also track the quality of wireless networks used by its devices and this is done by checking on the download speeds. Experts believe this is an admirable feat as no one else had been able to do anything like that before. This is the reason Apple is able to be super-responsive to glitches.

Since this is certainly not the last we have heard of the kill switch, which way is it going to go? Will the other manufacturers follow suit?

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