Fake Apps in Palm App Feeds: Caveat Emptor

The ability to sideload applications and to install apps via official yet unreviewed beta and Web app feeds is just part of what makes Palm’s app distribution system so attractive. It’s a bit of a double edged sword, however, because the fact that apps can be installed without passing through formal, human review greatly increases the potential for malware and timewasters. We saw this for perhaps the first time on webOS with a few questionable apps that have shown up in the beta and Web feeds over the last few days

Apple would argue that just this possibility explains and vindicates their methods, that by closely controlling app distribution they help their customer avoid such issues. In reality, though, things aren’t so simple.

First, outside of smartphones, the entire computer industry has long embraced the freedom for users to install and developers to offer whatever applications they want. While there is therefore a great deal of malware (on all PC platforms), there’s also tremendous diversity and innovation. In fact, it’s a bit odd that users who have been accustomed to such freedom on their PCs are willing to accept such stifling controls on their Apple iOS products.

Second, as demonstrated with the young programmer who fooled Apple’s app reviewers into putting an inappropriate app into the App Store, human review doesn’t guarantee that a platform will never experience malware. In addition, control such as Apple has implemented necessarily creates a significant tradeoff in terms of apps that are disapproved for entirely subjective reasons such as “value” and “appropriateness.” Apple makes its users marginally safer, but only by putting them inside an inconsistent, unpredictable “walled garden” of Apple’s often-capricious design.

By offering a non-reviewed app distribution mechanism, on the other hand, Palm has given users and developers more freedom to decide what kind of apps they want to see. But, it also gives users more responsibility. In short, webOS users need to exercise the same kind of discretion that they should be exercising with their PCs—at the very least, if it seems too good to be true (i.e., an app from a third party that professes to be the long-awaited Flash 10.1 plug-in), then don’t download it. And, users should check out a developer’s Web site and perform at least a little due diligence before clicking the “Download” button. That information is available in the App Catalog screen for every app; just click on the “Developer Home” option:

findapps_2010-02-08_093028

In short, it’s caveat emptor (buyer beware) in the Palm App Catalog, and that’s a good thing. Just remember: with great power comes great responsibility.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] apps and from where, Palm has made it easy to install apps outside the official App Catalog. This brings some risks, certainly, but it also creates a dynamic and vibrant ecosystem that’s more liberating than it is [...]

  2. [...] is how open everything is. Palm has given us a platform that we users can control, and as with the bogus Web apps that I’ve written about, we can’t have it both ways. Either Palm lets us users determine how we [...]

  3. [...] apps and from where, Palm has made it easy to install apps outside the official App Catalog. This brings some risks, certainly, but it also creates a dynamic and vibrant ecosystem that’s more liberating than it is [...]

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