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Google's Android has a major security problem but users like it that way

Google's Android has a major security problem but users like it that way
PHOTO COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK

One of the biggest advances in online security is encryption. You've been hearing a lot about it. It's so hard to crack that the FBI is trying to compel Apple to unlock a dead terrorist's encrypted iPhone because the government can't get in.

Encryption, simplistically, is when companies like Apple scramble your information behind a password. Even if a hacker, or the government, gets past your password, they won't be able to understand what they see.

Which is why Google has been trying for years to encrypt its 1.4 billion Android devices around the world, to protect your privacy. However, Google's having a tough time encrypting Android devices.

Specifically, Android handset manufacturers say encryption slows down phone performance, and many users agree. So, many manufacturers aren't implementing encryption on the Android devices they're making.

The problem for Google is that 400 manufacturers, including Samsung and LG Electronics, make most Android phones. Google's own Nexus phones account for only a small percentage of smartphones sold around the world. That's the opposite of Apple, which makes all its iPhones. That makes it easy for them to enforce encryption on its devices.

Only 10% of Android devices are encrypted, compared to 95% of iPhones. Note: In October, Google issued a mandate to its manufacturers, stating that they must use encryption on phones running its newest operating system, Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), if the phones have sufficient memory and some other criteria. Only 2.3% of Android phones user Marshmallow. (See photo next page.)

However, Google doesn't have the upper hand in this discussion. It depends on its manufacturers to make Android devices and sell them around the world. Google doesn't want to hurt those relationships.

In 2014, Google had told manufacturers they had to use encryption on Android phones. But Google backed down when manufacturers said it slowed down some functions by several seconds.

The problem for you is your privacy. Without encryption, it's easy for the government, police and hackers to unlock your phone and view your personal information.

Going forward, it's likely high-end, high-performance Android smartphones will be encrypted. For instance, Samsung's Galaxy S7 is encrypted.

"If there was encryption that didn't affect usability and performance, then I can't imagine anyone not wanting to include that feature," a Samsung spokesperson told the New York Times.

Google's move toward encryption is going to be a slow process. What do you think? Would you prefer that your phone is encrypted? Or are you concerned that encryption will slow down your smartphone's performance? Let us know in comments.

Android encryption

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