A Massive Disappointment: App Permissions on Android M

Android M Permissions Overview

This week I installed the Android M Developer Preview on my Nexus 5, solely to try out the new and much-needed permissions manager for apps. I’m sad to report that its implementation just isn’t very good.

This Android modder has been spoiled by the superior privacy and protection offered by custom ROMs for some time now. Google could and should have done a better job at respecting their users’ personal data; for whatever reason, they’ve chosen not to.

For starters, the permissions panel itself is hidden away in the advanced options for the apps settings panel—in other words, you’ll need to tap on Settings > Apps > Advanced to get to the screen you see here. But as I say, its how permission controls work that’s the real problem here.

Android M Permissions - Glympse

Let’s take Glympse as an example. This location sharing app basically needs every available permission to do its thing.

Android M Permissions - Location

The only way you’ll be able to deny any of its requested permissions is to make your way back to that permissions screen and turn it off yourself—and you’ll need to do it before you run the app, or you’ll be too late.

Android M Permissions - Cyanogen

App permissions on Cyanogen OS—or, for that matter, any CM-based custom ROM—are a whole different ballgame. Just fire up the app and Privacy Guard will immediately alert you the moment that app tries to access sensitive information on your device. You get to decide then and there what course of action to take.

In the case of Glympse, yes, you’d most likely let it access your location, since that’s kind of the whole point of the app. But remember, this is only an example, and the purpose of a permissions manager is to give you control of what your apps have access to.

The granular permission controls in Android M are better than nothing, I suppose. But compared to Cyanogen’s Privacy Guard they’re just not very good. Hopefully things will improve before the final release.

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