Google Plans To Encrypt Android Data By Default - InformationWeek

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9/20/2014
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Google Plans To Encrypt Android Data By Default

After Apple CEO Tim Cook talks up iOS8 data security, Google says the next version of Android will shield data on devices more effectively.

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Following Apple CEO Tim Cook's declaration on Wednesday that Apple is unable to decrypt devices using iOS 8, Google let it be known that the next version of Android will shield data on devices more effectively.

Android has supported user-controlled device encryption since the debut of version 2.3.4 (Gingerbread), with improvements over the years. But now Google plans to turn device encryption on by default. A company spokesperson told the Washington Post, "As part of our next Android release, encryption will be enabled by default out of the box, so you won't even have to think about turning it on."

The next Android release is called "Android-L." No specific release date has been announced, but Google intends to deliver the update before the end of 2014, possibly as soon as October.

By turning device encryption on by default, Apple and Google are declaring their disinterest in surveillance-as-a-service. Government agencies often ask the companies to help them access data on smartphones seized in the course of investigations, when investigators cannot access that data on their own. When authorities make such demands in accordance with valid legal process, companies must provide whatever data they can access. Default device encryption means Apple and Google will be unable to assist authorities with data on devices, whether they want to or not.

[Will these move influence sales of wearables? Read Android Wear to Beat Apple Watch?]

"What is so interesting and smart about this move is that rather than [Apple] telling the government that they no longer want to help the government, they re-architected iOS so they are unable to help the government," Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist and senior policy analyst for the ACLU, wrote in a blog post. "Think of it as Apple playing a game of chicken, and the company has just thrown the steering wheel out of the window."

Google may find it harder to get credit for promoting privacy than Apple, because it's committed to collecting data about its users to help its advertising business -- a point to which Cook alluded. And as long as Google has accessible data, people will come asking for it. But Google deserves some credit. The company has already advanced online privacy in many ways, including its 2010 decision to enable HTTPS in Gmail by default, its Safe Browsing API, and its Transparency Reports, among other related initiatives. Apple's advantage is that it's in the hardware business, rather than the information business.

In any event, both companies, along with others in the technology industry, stand to benefit by embracing ignorance of customer data. By doing so, they should be able to mitigate the mistrust of cloud computing created by Edward Snowden's revelations about the scope of government-backed surveillance. Yet putting users in control of device data will only get them halfway there.

Neither Apple nor Google provides user-controlled encryption, by default or choice, in iCloud or Google Drive. Apple does encrypt most iCloud data, except for Mail and Notes, but because the company controls the encryption keys rather than the customer, it can provide access if necessary. Google Drive files are not encrypted -- doing so would limit sharing and collaboration -- but there are third-party file encryption options.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 7:56:55 AM
Google and privacy
"Google may find it harder to get credit for promoting privacy than Apple, because it's committed to collecting data about its users to help its advertising business -" Well, it looks like I'm not the only one casting a skeptical eye toward Google implementing encryption by default.  I guess as long as they can get the data that they want for advertising purposes they don't mind cutting everyone else off.  I can only speculate but I don't think that Google will be cutting off its own data collection by doing this.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 12:52:52 PM
And Google just lost its China Business...
Thomas,

Its good to see that the Two Pre-dominant Mobile OS Manufacturers are tackling this area with all Seriousness today.

I was just reading an Article in Today's Edition of Reuters;which clearly points out how thanks to China Tightening its Net Censorship Requirements further(Has a lot to do with the Massive Recession that the Chinese Economy is experiencing currently);Googles Share of Search as well as other Saas Options like Mail has declined sharply in China.

It seems ever since Google decided to Encrypt all Web Searches by Default,The Chinese are Happily Blocking access to Google China Servers (for Mainland Chinese) which are now directed to Hong Kong.

It seems they even blocked access to Google Drive and Google Play Services.

They(The Chinese) want to be in full control over their Internet which is why they won't permit any kind of Encryption which they can't break themselves.

Its an interesting situation to be in today(for Google).

Do you Bend down and submit the Will of the Mighty Communist Party ?

Or,do you just up sticks and exit the market entirely?

I see something very similar happening with Android Phones as well in China-They will mandate that they all get built in with some sort of HomeGrown Encryption over which they have full control.

Google Android can just kiss access to this Huge Market Goodbye if they don't comply.

 

 
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 12:55:19 PM
Re: Google and privacy
That's the inherent challenge in being a company that sells hardware as well as services on that hardware and also deals in data about those folks using those services on that hardware. It will always be a tough balance for Google, but adding this encryption should make a difference for privacy concerns. They'll still have access to all kinds of disclosed app usage and purchase data, just like Apple.
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 12:55:34 PM
Re: Google and privacy
SaneIT,

Very true.

They will be just making it mega-hard for anyone else to access that Data(except themselves of course).

Else the whole Business purpose behind the phone/OS is defeated.

After all,Search is their Bread and Butter Business.

IF search fails they can't do anything(or make any money).

After all,Most Android OSes are given over to OEMs for Free today.

At the end of the day it all boils down to the fact there never were a Free Lunch nor is one available today.

 

 
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 12:57:12 PM
Re: Google and privacy
Jaggibons,

Do you feel this just a Marketing Thing(in response to the Barbs thrown by Tim Cook their way recently) or is there more to it?

After all,Encryption was always available on Google Android Devices(just was never Turned on by Default).

 
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2014 | 1:13:14 PM
Re: Google and privacy
Probably a bit of both. Yes, privacy and data security is at the top of many people's minds with the comments from Apple and the recent very high profile data security breaches at major retailers this year. On the other side, it is just good business sense to go this route. Regardless of the reason, it will benefit many folks who won't take the time to turn on their encryption when they get their phone.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Strategist
9/22/2014 | 3:09:13 PM
Apple difference
I would like to congratulate Apple leasing this. Google may have been working on it but they were not able to make news about it. It took Apple again to make a difference. At the sand time these companies should not be knowing anything about our data, we as a users own it and they have no reason to know about it they should be encrypting data in any every platform and not knowing the key.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Strategist
9/22/2014 | 3:11:49 PM
Re: Google and privacy
It is less about encryption more about who has the keys to unlock it. Answer should be nobody but the users, otherwise it is unless middle tier.
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Strategist
9/22/2014 | 3:14:08 PM
Re: And Google just lost its China Business...
Their best bet is still to give the keys to the users. Chinese government will have to adapt sooner or later.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
9/23/2014 | 9:20:29 AM
Re: Google and privacy
It is good for business and I commend Google for paying enough attention that they recognize privacy is a big issue right now.  The average user will see this, feel good that Google is doing something and won't think much of it unless they are pressed by someone with a competitor's phone.  We heard a lot about Apple's walled garden when iOS first launched, I think Google is seeing the value there now.
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