Google changed the settings on Android phones without their owners' permission

Originally published at:


So when will this be ready?

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Yay, scaremongering.

You do realize that this is exactly the same thing as a regular OTA update being pushed to you? Or Windows updating itself?

So let’s crucify Google here because they are doing exactly the same thing as everyone else - and happened to release a benign screw-up. Unlike e.g. Microsoft who released updates that made the computers not boot anymore. Or Apple’s literally bricking phones before …

However, this remote update stuff is something the users have mostly themselves to blame for - if it wasn’t forced on people, nobody has ever updated anything. Then we had “fun” like Sasser, Blaster, Melissa … The possibility to sneak in some “updates” for purely commercial reasons, such as breaking competitor’s product or introduce ads was later only too much of a temptation to pass on.

I would love to “Act and shop accordingly.” - just show me a smartphone vendor/manufacturer that doesn’t do this!


But of course they did, when are we going to learn that google is not our friend? I know most other tech giants aren’t either but the phrase “google is your friend” appears to be ubiquitous.

It’s being covered on here many times in the past but smartphones truly are the dumpster fire of privacy.

Let me get this straight: you are OK with using a device running software written by Google, but you are unhappy that Google can control how the software that they wrote behaves ?

I completely agree that it is bad user experience, but with respect to the security model, nothing outlandish happened here.

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I’d say that when my “quiet enjoyment” of the device can result in collateral damage (as my device is owned by bad guys and used to carry out spam, fraud, cyber-attacks, etc.), then we reach the a point where the rights of private ownership and the rights of society to protect itself start to collide.

Oddly enough, the Internet of Things, where we essentially do own our stuff (because it’s not cost effective for anyone to continue to interfere with it) is also our nightmare security scenario.

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An accidental change that, at worst, slowed a small fraction of Android phones down. I’ll take that over Apple knowingly downloading a U2 album to millions of their customer’s iPhones without permission.

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@SeamusBellamy, if you followed the news, you should be aware that Google is doing much more than turning on battery safe mode.

The Pixel 2 series are currently a testbed for battery usage inprovement based on machine learning using data how users use their phone. And I take it from several pieces, not alone Google’s own blog, that this stuff happens on Google’s servers. I guess the pixels machine learning capabilities are used, too, but the real work uses other people’s computers, aka The Cloud, branded Deep Mind™.

I think Google uses data on how and when I use which of my browsers, for instance, and how I use the keyboard, at which light conditions and which time I adjust screen brightness, etc, etc.

They are doing statistics with that, and being trained in multivariate stats I think this is really an interesting dataset. I’m fascinated by their stuff. But I am also acutely aware I bought a high-end device for a premium price and I am still paying with my data. Not knowing which data is actually used makes me very uneasy.

But hell, I’d like to look at those datasets, FFS.


Click bait… They pushed an update… people accepted the update… the mistake was they didn’t mean to change the settings in the update… not that they maliciously did that…

Settings are changed in every update…

So if I build your house, and then discover that there is a flaw in the door that needs to be fixed, I ABSOLUTELY need your permission to come into your house to fix it.

While I’m there, I need separate permission from you to change a flickering lightbulb.

That is what it looks like when you own something.

Now, if I build a house and you rent it from me, I dont need your permission to do those things, I just need to give you notice.

That’s what this argument is about: are we a society that owns things, or a society of renters?

It is a moral and legal debate with meaningfully different outcomes


Disappointing. This article is a violation of trust. I do value my daily quota of silliness from Boing Boing, but I count on you guys to report sensibly on tech issues. No reason to restate why this is a terrible article. Others that have preceded me seem to have done an adequate job of that.


It took this week to realize it? What about when Samsung pushed updates to Note 7s that weren’t yet returned? Shouldn’t that have flagged something?

or this?

[quote=“Chad_Boudreau, post:10, topic:128867, full:true”]
So if I build your house, and then discover that there is a flaw in the door that needs to be fixed, I ABSOLUTELY need your permission to come into your house to fix it. …
… [/quote]

Unlike Microsoft Windows, Android does ask you if you if you would like to apply OTA updates before it does so. So your analogy fails. You do actually get asked for permission. And you do actually have the insane option of indefinitely postponing the fix for your door that fails to lock properly if you so choose.

Google Chrome on the other hand, doesn’t ask for permission. So I guess the proper analogy for that would be something about remotely serviceable bathroom doors, or something like that. Personally, if somebody wants to fix my bathroom door without entering my house without asking permission, I don’t have a huge problem with that.

Either way, it seems more like faux outrage. It really isn’t a property rights issue at all. You are perfectly free to do inadvisable things with your phone if that’s what you really want. If any outrage is appropriate, it should be something about inadequate quality control. Which isn’t nearly as much fun.

I want a phone that will feel me up.

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Google has been doing this with Chrome for quite some time now too:

Official Chrome builds will pick up settings + feature flag updates from their “Finch” server. It looks like they used it to disable the ‘www’ hiding feature in a recent chrome build:

This wasnt an “update” it was a deliberate although mistaken change made to your personal device without expressed consent on existing software. These arguments about “you took the update” are invalid. I beg you to find a release not for 9.0 (pie) that states they have consent to alter your personal settings on your hardware. …ill wait…

Many comments here saying auto updates have been around forever and necessary. That doesn’t make the article’s point invalid. We really don’t have as much control of our devices as we think we do.


I mean, you do own the device if your not on a payment plan or aren’t renting it. It’s the software you don’t own legally. I do agree that it is crazy Google is able to do this, but you can go ahead and install custom ROMs and unlock your bootloader, open your phone, etc.

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You need to distinguish between end user settings and software flags. A lot of times, code changes in the underlying software are gated on flag-flips. This allows for things like A-B testing where you give different users slightly different experiences, to see which works better. The flag is something the user NEVER has control over.