Apple’s “walled garden” approach in light of the impending rise of malicious mobile apps

Mon, Jun 14, 2010

Analysis, News

A few days ago, we excerpted an article explaining why Apple’s “walled garden” approach to the iTunes App Store may not necessarily be a bad thing. While Apple is routinely criticized every time news of a rejected app hits the web, there’s something to be said for having app store guidelines and a staff dedicated to ensuring quality control – even if that means a few kosher apps are temporarily denied entry into the app store. As Steve Jobs has said, it’s not a fool-proof system, and while Apple acknowledges and rectifies its mistakes, it’s doing the best it can to ensure a quality app experience for its users – though there’s no denying that Apple’s app store guidelines can be vague and are often enforced in an inconsistent manner.

In contrast, Google’s Android Marketplace is sort of the Wild West of app stores in the sense that there’s no app oversight and anything goes. Google doesn’t review submitted apps, and only enforces malicious and illegal apps reactively, relying on consumers to tip them off to any troublemaking programs.

While Google’s approach is certainly much more open than Apple’s, it brings with it a unique set of problems with potentially detrimental consequences for users. In a recent Wall Street Journal article discussing the “dark side” of phone apps, Spencer E. Ante recalls an incident from this past December when Google had to remove an illegal mobile-banking app.

In one incident, Google pulled dozens of unauthorized mobile-banking apps from its Android Market in December. The apps, priced at $1.50, were made by a developer named “09Droid” and claimed to offer access to accounts at many of the world’s banks. Google said it pulled the apps because they violated its trademark policy.

The apps were more useless than malicious, but could have been updated to capture customers’ banking credentials, said John Hering, chief executive of Lookout, a mobile security provider. “It is becoming easier for the bad guys to use the app stores,” Mr. Hering said.

As the number of individuals who conduct financial transactions via mobile devices continues to grow, the risk that malicious third party apps will crash and spoil the party will only increase. For the time being, it seems that Apple is better equipped to handle the inevitable rise of malicious apps than Google.

Apple’s oversight of the app store is arguably draconian, and indeed, many of its app rejections are arbitrary and downright contradictory. But just because Apple’s set up has its flaws doesn’t mean that Google’s approach is much more desirable.


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