Google is facing a potential uproar after it was discovered that a so-called remote kill switch existed in the forthcoming Android phone.
In the Android 'Market Terms of Service', Google expressly says that it might remotely remove an application from user phones. "Google may discover a product that violates the developer distribution agreement ... in such an instance, Google retains the right to remotely remove those applications from your device at its sole discretion," the terms read.
The G1, the first phone to run the Android software developed by Google, goes on sale on 22 October, and many people are getting their first in-depth look at it because T-Mobile has loaned the devices to reporters. The Android Market is the online store accessible from the phone where users can download applications.
Android users might be more receptive to Google's remote kill switch, than iPhone users were to Apple's remote kill switch for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Google is being upfront about it, whereas Apple didn't confirm the capability for the iPhone until days after a developer had discovered it.
In addition, Google says that if it does remotely remove an application, it will try to get users their money back, a question that iPhone users have wondered about in the case of an iPhone application recall. Google said that it will make "reasonable efforts to recover the purchase price of the product ... from the original developer on your behalf." If Google fails to get the full amount back, it will divide what it gets among affected users.
That said, Google may have more need to use a kill switch than Apple however. That is because Apple vets applications before putting them into its Apps Store. Anything goes in Google's Android Market, opening the chances of malicious or otherwise unwanted applications appearing in the market.
The Android Market business and program policies also include an item that says users can return any application for a full refund within 24 hours of the time of purchase. In the absence of a trial version of applications, this offer will let users return an application that might not deliver exactly what they had expected.
Users of the Android Market can also reinstall, as many times as they wish, an application that they buy, another useful feature in case a phone fails or is stolen.
For now though, all applications in the market are free because Google hasn't yet set up the mechanisms to allow developers to offer them for purchase.
Google has also included another interesting item in the Android Market terms of service: "None of the products are intended for use in the operation of nuclear facilities, life support systems, emergency communications, aircraft navigation or communication systems, air traffic control systems or any other such activities in which case the failure of the products could lead to death, personal injury, or severe physical or environmental damage."
That's not the only bit of levity to be found on the phone. The G1 comes with a text-only scrolling video listing contributors and offering special thanks. After a pause, at the very end, Google assures us that "no robots were harmed in the making of this product."