Choosing Android because you don't trust Google

My latest Guardian column, "Android and iOS both fail, but Android fails better," explains why I prefer Android to iOS -- not because I trust Google more than I trust Apple, but because Android requires less trust than iOS.

I use Android because I don't trust Google. Sure, I trust and like individual googlers, and admire many of the things the company has managed – but I don't for one moment think that Google's management is making its decisions in order to make me happy, fulfilled and free.

I think there are good days when Google's management might believe that helping me attain those ends will make it more money, but if it were to believe that making me miserable would enrich its shareholders without alienating too many of its key personnel and partners, my happiness would cease to matter in the slightest.

So why use Android? Because it requires less trust in Google than using iOS requires that you trust Apple. iOS has one official store, and it's illegal in most places to buy and install apps except through this store. If you and Apple differ about which apps you need, you have to break the law to get your iPhone or iPad to run the app that Apple rejected.

Android and iOS both fail, but Android fails better

(Image: Rooting my HTC Hero Android Phone, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from a_mason's photostream)

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  1. Why do people keep throwing around the word “illegal” in regards to how you use your own goddamn phone?  If I install an app that’s not part of the marketplace by jailbreaking my phone, I am not committing a crime.

    Please stop using the word “illegal” in regards to phone use outside of the terms as dictated by the phone provider/manufacturer. A better term would be “unauthorized”.

    Thank you.

      1. The Bay Bridge in San Francisco has a toll.  If you want to go out of your way, you can go around the bay in a couple different ways without paying a toll.  It’s inconvenient, will take you a bit of gas and a bit of time. 

        The DMCA is equivalent of creating a law to make it illegal to go around the bay without going over the Bay Bridge.  It’s stupid, it inconveniences a majority of people, and it’s only to benefit a few people’s pockets. 

        1. Your analogy is good, but you come to the wrong conclusion.

          The DMCA makes it illegal to cross the Bay Bridge by somehow sneaking past the toll. You’re circumventing protections (the toll) meant to make you pay for something (the bridge).

          Jailbreaking is getting there without using the Bay Bridge. And jailbreaking is not illegal under the DMCA.

          1. Yes, except that if you circumvent the Bay Bridge once, you’re allowed back on in the future.  Moreover (and I don’t know if this is true anymore, but used here for comedic effect), circumventing the Bay Bridge doesn’t necessarily put you at risk of bricking your car. (OK, longer time on the road, higher risk of accident, sure)

        2. “…it’s only to benefit a few people’s pockets.”

          Yes but they are IMPORTANT people. People who MATTER. People whose needs are so important that they must over-ride the needs of the rest of us. People without whom the world as we know it….

          I.E. They are not you or me.  Sheesh, haven’t you GOT it yet?

      2. Anti-Circumvention Exemptions:
        “Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset. (A new exemption in 2010.)
        Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network. (Revised from a similar exemption approved in 2006.)” – thank you for confirming my point with your supporting link.

      3. The DMCA is not a global law. The US is not “most places”. Apple’s claims that it is illegal to jailbreak your iPhone has not been tested in any court, so as far as everybody knows, it’s perfectly legal in most places to jailbreak your iPhone and install apps from other sources (as long as those sources are legal too, of course).

      4. Wasn’t there a recent court ruling that Jailbreaking is NOT illegal? I’m sure I read it either here or on Ars…

    1. I agree. Cory, you only legitimise the corporate takeover of the law by using their language, even sneeringly. Instead, talk as if doing whatever harmless things you want is perfectly acceptable, ignore the law, and at least you’ll set up a battle for society’s morality. Maybe we’ll lose but if you acknowledge their legitimacy we won’t even get to fight.

      1. He’s not saying that it should be the law, just that it is. If you’re going to break the law, even one that all right-minded people agree is absurd, you should do so in the knowledge that breaking the law can have consequences, however unjust those consequences are.

        1. No. You shouldn’t even be aware of the law. The law is for criminals. It should be invisible. Someone with a national newspaper column has a responsibility to hold their morality as absolute and the law as irrelevant, otherwise only corporations will be able to effect changes to society’s standards and you’ll be left chattering about it.

          1. Please be informed that you are in breach of the 2010 “empowering criminals” law in that last post – by saying that an aspect of society was for criminals alone.  Police will be knocking on your door shortly.  Please stay seated.

            …what’s that?  You didn’t know about that law?  Well, wasn’t that exactly how you wanted it?  “You shouldn’t be aware of the law”?  Enjoy jail, criminal.

            (Seriously, everyone needs to be aware of the law, or else the state has far too much power.  Basic democracy.)

    2. Yea, they don’t understand the difference between civil and criminal law. Then again, with the corporations running America perhaps there will be no difference in the near future?

      [edit] See the link to DMCA below :P

    3. I might agree with your argument except for one fact –

      Apple views us (you and me) as their customers.  They want to do right by us because they want to sell us products.

      Google views advertisers as their customers.  They want to make advertisers happy and therefor have an incentive to sell us out (literally and figuratively). 

  2. I have only recently been exposed to the full horrors of the Android Market Place. I’ll take Apple’s quality-controlled closed-shop over that unbridled torrent of shit anyday.

    1. Oh, yes, I agree with you there. Android marketplace is in a sad state, and won’t improve due to various reasons.

      This is where Apple has really shown how it should be done while simultaneously being somewhat…annoying. Maybe that annoyance is required to make a usable product/system?

      1. I don’t consider it to be a valid tradeoff to censor the only legal (or legitimate) source of some arbitrary information in order to raise the signal to noise ratio. We might compare it to freedom of the press, in a sense: while (until xerox) it was limited to those who could afford a press, and thus no newspaper was expected to print everything, there remained the potential for someone else to set up a printing press and compete. What Apple is doing is telling its market that it intends to let them buy only from one source (like telling your employees that they are required to read only the new york times).

        Samizdat is always hairy and wild; hairy and wild is what happens when you let civilization self-organize organically rather than imposing a structure on it from above. But, samizdat is where it happens. It’s only in the hairy and wild domains on the edge of civilization where innovation really happens, because innovation is defined by its incompatibility with (or ignorance of, or structural improvements upon) that which is established.

  3. In some countries it actually IS illegal, because it requires breaking a security system (multiple security systems, in fact). Breaking DRM is not legal everywhere…

      1. Regrettably, there are hundreds, rather than thousands, of workable apps in the N900 store.  (Sorry, I don’t know about the N9.) This is more of a problem than it sounds … but less of a problem than some people make out. 

        And if you are a programmer, it’s arguably easier to write your own than with a ‘droid (Python and QT knowledge are all you need.)

  4. “but if it were to believe that making me miserable would enrich its
    shareholders without alienating too many of its key personnel and
    partners, my happiness would cease to matter in the slightest.”

    This applies to any publicly held company, and is completely evidenced by Apple’s practices, yet people continually, blindly, follow their product offerings and snatch them up with abandon.  It’s amazing how easily people are duped by a pretty package…

    1. and people seem to hold Apple to a higher standard than others, for some reason. All the other companies using Foxconn did not drive change in practices there, Apple did. People blamed Apple, not all the others. Not right, but at least Apple had the good sense to do something about it (and the clout).
      Apple has its faults, as any other huge company, but they do seem to take a serious stand on most issues, even if they don’t release press releases on everything.

    2. Apple is not popular because it is pretty. Apple is popular because it removes hassle. In fact, Apple only cares about aesthetics in so far as they minimise visual busyness/distractions/hassle.

      I also strongly suspect that Apple’s executive team does not really give two shits about its shareholders. They build systems that they would want to use and would be quite happy to see anyone unsatisfied with their decisions (whether customers, shareholders, or employees) go elsewhere.

  5. > … but if it were to believe that making me miserable would enrich its
    shareholders without alienating too many of its key personnel and
    partners, my happiness would cease to matter in the slightest.

    This was exactly my reaction to the “when patents attack android” post of theirs.  Sure, it so happens that they are on the right side of the patent fight *right now*, *because it’s financially expedient*, but that’s absolutely not to say they actually care about that issue.  As soon as it’s no longer profitable to take that tack (i.e. when they’re in a position to ATTACK with patents, rather than be attacked), their commitment to “openness” and “innovation” will go out the window.

  6. With the iPhone, I may be locked into Apple’s store but I also have a choice as to which of Apple’s other services I want to use. If I don’t want to use MobileMe (or now, iCloud), I can disable that – which means Apple doesn’t get to play with my mail, contacts & other related data.

    Android on the other hand *requires* that you set it up with your Google account during install. Sure, you can set up a fake account, but hey, Google Doesn’t Like That ( – and yes, that’s just for Google+ at the moment, but I don’t like where they’re going).

    1. With the iPhone, I may be locked into Apple’s store but I also have a choice as to which of Apple’s other services I want to use. If I don’t want to use MobileMe (or now, iCloud), I can disable that – which means Apple doesn’t get to play with my mail, contacts & other related data.

      Android on the other hand *requires* that you set it up with your Google account during install. Sure, you can set up a fake account, but hey, Google Doesn’t Like That (… – and yes, that’s just for Google+ at the moment, but I don’t like where they’re going).

      Srsly?  So you would rather be locked into a single all consuming empire of 3vil because you are afraid that Google will suddenly demand that everyone has to send in their license and prove that they are indeed ScrottyMcBalls in real life?  Take the tin foil hat off fella.  Yes, Google’s social networking site makes you use something that sounds vaguely like a real name for better or for ill, but to then leap off a cliff and declare that they are going to put a gun to your head and make you give them  your passport and first born to verify your junk mail account is beyond stupid.If you are still paranoid, I guess  you can stick with iOS, but that is a bit like moving to North Korea because you think the Canadian government is starting to roll back freedom of speech.

  7. Amazed how many commenters at the Guardian seem to think that you are spouting non-understandable gibberish.  Your article makes perfect sense to me.

    At the end of the day there is no point trusting the software: you have to trust the *system* that makes the software, because that system will either produce updates that completely replace your current software over time — or leave it exactly as it is now.  Both alternatives are equally fraught with problems.

    Both Apple and Android are too closed for my comfort.  I have an N900 — which has other problems, but at least not ones of openness.

  8. I pick which phone to use based on how well it works for the things I need it to do. Period. Religious dogma never enters into the equation. The minute a particular manufacturer (currently, Apple) or service provider (currently, AT&T) fails to meet that simple standard, they’re out. I don’t have time or patience to waste on fan boy arguments for or against a particular platform. I’ve used both. iOS devices simply work better now for me. Why try to get people to switch on such dogmatic grounds? Is it really necessary that I suffer a lower-quality experience on something as trivial as a cell phone just to satisfy a (political) ideal or to satisfy a herd instinct?

    1. But that’s exactly the point — it’s *not* dogmatic, but pragmatic.  How much control do you want over your phone? 

      If you want little control, but you just want it to “work” — and trust Apple to make it so — fine.

      If you would rather have control, and don’t mind doing a bit more fiddling to get it — also fine.

      1. I don’t feel a burning need to “control” my phone any more than I feel a need to “control” my toaster or my car. They are appliances that are manufactured to do a particular job. If I can find one that is better suited in terms of price/performance than my current one, I’ll consider buying it.

        If I want to “fiddle” with something, I’ll get out my soldering iron. Fiddling with a mission critical communications device is not something I should ever have to do. In the meantime, I’ve yet to find a function on Android that I cannot perform as well or better with multiple app choices on the iPhone. 

        And I think there’s more than a little hyperbole in Cory’s contention that it’s “illegal almost everywhere” to load your own apps on an iPhone. Where is it illegal? Name one market where iOS devices are sold that it is illegal to load your own apps onto the device.

        Anyone can step up and develop apps for their phone. And there are plenty of completely legitimate ways for non-developers to load over-the-air apps onto their iOS device from places other than Apple’s app store.

        1. Well, there you go then.  You don’t want control, you want stuff that just works.  And so long as you trust Apple, the iPhone will give you that.  So you’re in the right place.  

          But just because that works for you, please don’t assume that it is the right solution for everyone.  Cory has said that it doesn’t work for him.  And it doesn’t work for me, either. 

          I certainly do feel a burning need to control my toaster … literally!

        2. “And there are plenty of completely legitimate ways for non-developers to load over-the-air apps onto their iOS device from places other than Apple’s app store.”
          Really? Name one, please.
          There are plenty of web links that take you back to the app that has been approved by Apple and posted in their store and there is Cydia that requires you to Jailbreak.

          Jailbreaking requires breaking the DRM, which as already discussed is considered illegal most places.

          1. I don’t know what you mean by most places but its not illegal in the US.  You pretty much have to jailbreak Android just to get rid of all the carrier bloatware that slows down your phone and consumes resources.  Apple is the ONLY company that won’t allow carrier bloatware on its phones while Google and the Android manufacturers roll over for it.
            Android is already slow and laggy enough without all that garbage plus Sense, Touchwiz, or whatever nonsense the manufactures put on the phone.
            Now go run your malware scanner on your Android phone reducing performance even further.

          2. There’s a rise lately in iPhone games written completely in Javascript which can be downloaded to the phone, and appear for all intents and purposes as apps.  That same idea could certainly be applied to other app types.

            See, and for a few examples.

        3. If you are referring to provisioning, it’s a gray area.

          Provisioning is meant so organizations can install private apps that aren’t on the App Store. (Apple does it with the iTouches the store employees use, for one)

          But… there are many websites that will provision (for a nominal fee) a non-jailbroken phone so you can install pirated apps that have been re-signed with their certificate. This is a DMCA violation on their part (because the app store DRM had to be stripped to allow re-signing) so don’t be shocked when things stop working (Apple can’t remove provisioned apps from your phone, but Apple can revoke their cert because Apple signed it)

  9. You might be able to mistrust Google less, Cory, but I wouldn’t trust anything downloaded from the Google Marketplace. And a smartphone without apps might as well be a dumbphone. Or a Blackberry.

  10. Seriously, we’ve heard these same tropes again and again. Well, the term “DRM process” is new (a credit to Apple engineering to turn the one buzzword which encapsulates fevered boingboing-hatred of RIAA/Copyright Fascism into an actual running computer program, which spawns multiple freedom-of-choice impairing threads, no doubt ;-)

  11. What a silly article.
    You don’t break any laws jail breaking an iPhone.Apples app store may be curated but Googles app store sure could use some curation.  iOS pas are better quality, more plentiful, more unique, and don’t contain freakin malware like some apps on Googles app store.
    Android hardware quality and service and support is poor.
    Android is just a mess.  Slow too btw.
    I’ll take the minor restriction on iOS anyway plus great app quality and selection.

  12. By the same definition of the DMCA (which does not include jailbreaking the iPhone in the US) – wouldn’t that apply to jailbreaking Android devices as well?

  13. So what would the right word be, non-contractual? TOS voiding?

    All in all, i think Doctorow have the right idea here. I have managed to rescue more Linux installs then Windows installs simply because the former is better able to “fail well”. Logs that use something other then undocumented hex codes as “information”, various levels of functionality that degrade in a controlled manner (going from X to terminal to bare bones boot or livecd).

  14. It is still illegal in many places to circumvent security measures implemented on a device designed to “protect” it. While the exemption was made in the USA that covers jailbreaking, it is likely still a crime elsewhere.

    The android market is full of shit. So is the iOS app store.  The difference is almost anyone can post anything to the market while apple uses an inconsistent set of rules, and applies them inconsistently, to allow or deny apps that tends to block some apps that some people really want, often without valid reason, or with asinine reasons.

    Android does NOT require you to have a Google account to use it. You can skip the registration and not use any of the Google apps. There are other market apps available (ie: Amazon) to give you access to the wide array of apps available to Android. In fact, should you go the route of installing your own Android firmware, the Google apps are entirely optional. Google even requires that these apps be provided separately.

    I honestly dislike the iOS vs Android debate because while they do compete, and I will always prefer Android, I will never spout religious dogma on someone else about it (maybe this is the atheist in me). Sure, I poke fun at my iPhone and Blackberry user friends, but these people chose their devices for whatever reasons they have and will only change if another platform provides whatever it is they are looking for as well as providing a better experience.

  15. For the record, I do not own an iOS device. Thank you for those who pointed out that DRM circumvention is illegal in certain countries, even if the purpose is not to commit copyright infringement.  I personally think such laws are frivolous and silly.  Here’s how I see perceive “DRM circumvention” on smartphones:

    If I go to a store that sells computers (desktops/laptops) and I purchase (for example) a HP laptop, it is within my rights to take that laptop home, erase the hard drive and reinstall Windows without all of the additional partitions, extra software and various other add-ons that HP has included to help lower their bottom line in the sale.  It is then within my rights to install alternatives to those programs (if desired).  I may even install an alternative operating system such as one of several LINUX distributions, OpenBSD, UNIX, etc. if I so choose, with the understanding that should I require technical support, HP is no longer required to provide it to me due to my removal of their OS.

    In my mind, a smartphone is no different from a computer, save for having the additional function of connecting to a cellular network (this can also be done on a computer).  It is hardware, with an operating system that supports software.  If I don’t like the operating system that ships with the phone, it should be within my rights to change it.  If I want to install software that is not supported by the marketplace, it should be within my rights to do so, provided that I understand that my phone will no longer be supported by the manufacturer or vendor should I have an issue that might require technical support to resolve.

    Regardless of whether I am using a computer or a smartphone, the only time the word “illegal” should be used is if I am infringing upon copyrighted material.

  16. I’m getting the faint impression from various posts on BB that Cory doesn’t care much for Apple’s policies.  Maybe I’m just reading too much into it…

    Anytime I get slightly annoyed with yet another anti-Apple rant from Cory, I just have to remember that I have the same attitude toward Microsoft (for different reasons, I guess).

    1. Well said, as was Cory’s original article. 
      It’s interesting to watch Apple break with the open, accessible beginnings that created them, and instead choose the same isolationist policies of their previous biggest competitor. 

      I don’t love the Android system any more or less than iOs, but I DO love the way it trends towards openness. That potential, and the Android/Cyanogen community that fosters more development is a nice flavor, compared to the one-size, one-source oversight emanating from Cupertino. You’ll see more surprises and innovation out of a diverse group than you will out of a top-down organization.

  17. I can understand the practical reasons for choosing an iPhone, but some of you Apple fans are creepy. War is Peace! DRM is Strength! iTunes is Freedom!

    Now let’s paradoxically claim that Apple condones jailbreaking because they haven’t closed all the security holes, and also that Apple has great security.

  18. I might agree with your argument except for one fact –

    Apple views us (you and me) as their customers.  They want to do right by us because they want to sell us products.

    Google views advertisers as their customers.  They want to make advertisers happy and therefor have an incentive to sell us out (literally and figuratively).

    1. And I would normally agree with you except, every time I have to pay $80 for a new power adapter after my current one fries just out of warranty, I get a nagging feeling that Apple doesn’t see me so much as a customer as a dollar sign.

  19. To the observation that jailbreaking is legal in the US: this is an *exemption* from the DMCA. It must be reaffirmed every few years, so it could become illegal at any time. As the law is written, they are illegal unless you reliably convince the gov’t to grant an exemption (over the protests of lobbyists) every three years, forever.

  20. I don’t trust either Apple or Google, and the request to trust them is a large part of what’s kept me out of the modern smartphone market. I actually do trust the manufacturer as one good place to find well-scrubbed software… but only one, as for any other microcomputer; I have no interest in being captive (not least because captive removes a lot of the incentive to improve).

    And Google already has too much of my data; until they start actively paying me for it, I’m not interested in giving them more. Especially since data on the phone gets into serious privacy and confidentiality issues.

  21. All I can tell you is, i’m pretty tech savvy. When I first grabbed a friend’s Android phone (EVO) to test it out, it literally took me 15 minutes to even find the web browser. The whole experience seemed non-intuitive, and the entire system looked ugly.  My experience with the Iphone was the opposite. I could figure out how to use everything, it was smooth and fast, and looked nice and slick. Made my decision, and I’ve never been happier. The app store is great- there is a LOT of software that I use that is real specialized for my industry, and I only find quality apps for my business on appstore, on Android’s marketplace there is few, if any apps related to what I want. The ones that are there look like they are designed by a robot- not a hint of beauty or polish on any of the graphics in the app. I’ll stick to Apple’s horribly controlled system of yummy any time. Droid fans can keep trying to convince me- but sorry, I keep drinking Apple’s juice and love it!

    1. And when i was trying to diagnose a networking error on a ipod touch (some app download was stalling midway) i found basically zero way to get things going again beyond starting over (overly brutal imo) or leave it sitting and hope it started up again on its own.

  22. “Follow the money” seems to be the best thing to do when considering which company to trust.
    MSFT makes money by selling OS’s and office. Apple makes money selling phones and computers. Google makes money by selling your data to their customers (advertising agencies and the like). 

  23. Bah. I won’t let my hard earned dollars support either OS as long as I
    can. Perhaps if enough people demanded better treatment, we could
    actually get working tech that worked for us instead of making us work
    to get it to work. The MeeGo looks promising.

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