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Android's Next Big Challenge: Leaky Personal Data

Google (GOOG) is trolling for corporate adoption of its Android mobile devices with new business features the company just introduced. But will that be enough to seduce IT managers? Maybe not, given the amount of personal data that apps like Pandora grab from a phone and send off to ad networks and the privacy and security issues that arise.

Not to suggest that the new enterprise features are unimportant, especially the security-related ones. They are the sorts of things that companies have begun to demand when devices can get into a corporate network and walk away with data. The three features that Google unveiled today were the following:

  • A way to locate a lost or stolen device on a map, call it, and remotely reset the password.
  • An option to encrypt data on an Android device.
  • A corporate contacts app to more easily locate people in the user's company.
All three are important to business -- the first two particularly so. No company wants to think that keys to the back door go out with every employee who has a company smartphone. But a couple of features does not a secure phone make.

High insecurity
Earlier this week there was news of a criminal investigation into how much data some popular apps like Pandora were sending off to ad networks. Now some of the details are coming out, and they're not remotely comforting.

Security vendor Veracode analyzed Pandora apps and found that both the Android and Apple (AAPL) iPhone versions sent such data as age, gender, location, and iPhone unique identifiers to five ad networks. There was also code that seemed to send a user's birthday, gender, and postal code. According to research done in the past, that particular trio of data is enough to uniquely identify 87 percent of the country.

Pandora was hardly the only company receiving subpoenas from a grand jury. A smartphone is no safer than the apps running on it, so the wholesale data transmission that the apps do could become a reason for businesses to think twice about supporting devices running Android or iOS.

Not that Google apparently has much to worry about, if market analyst firms are right. First, IDC predicted that Android would have 45.4 percent market share by 2015. Not to be outdone when doubling down on a bet, Gartner estimates that Android will have 49.2 percent of the smartphone market by the end of 2012.

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