Firefox OS to outdo Android on granular application permissions

Users will be able to revoke permissions previously granted to apps starting with Firefox OS 2.1

Future versions of the Firefox OS mobile platform will allow users to control application-specific permissions, a feature with both privacy and security benefits that's missing on Android.

Firefox OS 2.1, whose code is expected to be completed in November, will have a new option under its developer settings called Verbose App Permissions that will allow users to tweak permissions per application, according to Mozilla security engineer Frederik Braun.

"The typical list in the Settings app will then show you all the permissions an app has and allows you to set them to Allow, Prompt or Deny," Braun said Sunday in a blog post.

The feature will work for apps obtained from the Firefox Marketplace, but not for built-in apps that are shipped with Firefox OS phones by default.

Using the feature is not without risk, as some apps might stop functioning properly if they are not designed to cope with permission failures.

Unless the developer has created an error handler, "the app might be indefinitely stuck in a waiting state," Braun said.

Apple's iOS has had granular application permission control for years, but Android lacks this feature. That deficiency has drawn criticism from privacy and security experts.

Android users are asked to grant all permissions requested by an app at installation time. If they decline, the application is not installed. If they agree, there is no way to later revoke only specific permissions for that app.

Over time this has led to a situation where many apps ask for permissions they don't actually need in order to provide their primary functionality. In many cases that's because they bundle advertising frameworks that require their own, often extensive, list of permissions.

Furthermore, a June update to the Google Play app store has changed how permissions are shown to users and is now grouping them into categories, rather than listing them individually. For example users might see that an app requests SMS-related capabilities, but they would have to manually drill down to see whether those permissions refer to reading text messages or also sending them.

Google has called this a simplification to make permissions easier to understand, but some security experts believe the change makes it even harder for users to be properly informed about what they allow applications to do on their devices.

Google started to experiment with granular permission control in Android 4.3, which contained a hidden feature called App Ops that allowed users to turn off individual permissions granted to apps. However, the company later removed App Ops in Android 4.4.2, prompting advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation to call the inability to turn off app permissions "a Stygian hole in the Android security model."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags privacymobile securityGoogleElectronic Frontier FoundationAccess control and authenticationMozilla Foundation

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Lucian Constantin

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?