Open vs. Closed

Debating which type of app distribution system is better

7 June 2011

Google recently pulled 21 free apps from its Android market after finding they were malware. Downloaded by at least 50 000 people, the apps were able to gain access to a user's device such as a smartphone, gather data including the owner's mobile-service provider and user ID, and secretly download more malicious code to the device. The news has added fuel to the debate on which type of app distribution model is better: Android's less controlled model or Apple's closely monitored approach. Proponents of Android say app developers have more freedom and that the ability to customize a device's features outweighs the occasional piece of malware. Fans of Apple's system say it is more secure and prefer its more monitored system, despite the lack of customization.

Do the benefits of an open app distribution system outweigh the possible consequences? Which system do you prefer?

*This question has been corrected from the print version.

Responses to March's Question

Web-User Tracking

Several countries are considering new policies to give individuals more control over the information that websites collect and share about them. In November, the European Union announced plans for updating its privacy regulations to give consumers more control over online tracking. And in December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission proposed a Do Not Track mechanism that would let people prevent websites from sharing details about their online activities.

Critics of tracking are concerned that companies can record users' online activities, often without their knowledge. Others say tracking is necessary because it helps keep websites cost-free; advertisers pay for the information gathered about users' browsing or purchases so they then can run targeted ads.

Do you think a Do Not Track mechanism should be imposed? Are tracking services helpful, invasive, or necessary evils?

Protect Privacy
I am in favor of a Do Not Track mechanism. I often search the Web for components and parts from suppliers when I am developing new products. Without this mechanism, people from other companies may be able to view my list of suppliers. Every company I've ever worked for has requested this type of information be kept private.

Bob Middlemiss

Do Not Stalk
It is fundamentally wrong to track Web users, because it involves taking information from them without their explicit consent. That is known as stealing. Following a Web user's pattern of site visits and purchases is, in other environments, known as stalking.

Marek Klemes
Kanata, Ont., Canada

More Harm than Good
While I recognize the need for businesses to understand and market to a target demographic, I am opposed to unrestricted data tracking. Will my search and browser history be used to turn me down for a job? Will it alter my medical or car insurance rates? Will the data be dumped in a database and reveal the financial institutions that I frequent, leaving my accounts open to social-engineering attacks? It is too difficult for many non-tech-savvy users to figure out the current methods used to reduce tracking. An easy-to-use opt-out method should be available for those who do not wish to be tracked.

William Krekeler
St. Louis

Policy Is Not Enough
The problem with legal intervention is that policymakers rarely understand technology and the implications of regulating it. Allowing users to opt out of third-party tracking, assuring transparency of tracking methods, and letting the user know how the information will be used are important. But with cloud computing and the integration of services hosted on diverse domains, tracking will become more common, and it will be harder to manage with public policy.

Jim Isaak
Bedford, N.H.

Giving Away Your Ideas
Imagine you are using the Web to work on your patent application, business plan, or new product. If your activity is being tracked, then there's a chance you might be giving away information for free to a potential competitor who is willing to pay for it. Tracking is absolutely unacceptable. Your search activity is privileged information and not to be shared with others.

Radek Sobczynski
Orange, Conn.

Par for the Course
Unfortunately, Web tracking follows in the footsteps of the long-standing practice in the supermarket industry in which customers get discounted items if they use the supermarket's savings card. Customers who want that card must provide certain demographic information. The supermarket can then track their purchases and print out specific coupons right at checkout. This kind of practice goes too far, however, when the information obtained is used outside of the initial purpose for which it was collected.

Oliver J. Smith
Carlsbad, Calif.
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