The Android permissions system is something that has been under a bit of fire lately. It's a good system, but it's all or nothing. Fortunately, it looks like the future holds some hope that this will change. In the meantime, there's an app those with rooted Android devices can use. That tool is called App Ops, and it gives you granular control over app permissions. If you have a rooted Android device that's running 4.4.2 or higher, read on and enjoy.
App Ops allows you to go through every installed app on your device and enable or disable the various permissions for that app. For example, if you don't want the Facebook app gaining access to your contacts, App Ops allows you to easily disable that.
I'll walk you through the process of installing and using Ap Ops so that you can gain better control of app permissions on your Android device.
The installation of App Ops is simple. All you have to do is follow these steps:
- Open the Google Play Store on your rooted Android device
- Search for App Ops
- Locate and tap the entry by Lars Team
- Tap Install
- Read the permissions listing
- If the permissions listing is acceptable, tap Accept
- Allow the installation to complete
When the installation is finished, you should find a launcher for App Ops in your app drawer. Tap the launcher to start the app (depending on how you rooted your phone, you may have to give App Ops root permission to run).
Let's remove contact permission from the Facebook app. To do this, follow these steps:
- Open App Ops
- Swipe to the right until you're in the Messaging tab
- Scroll down and tap the Facebook entry
- Within the Facebook entry (Figure A), tap the ON/OFF switches for Read contacts and Modify contacts to place them in the OFF Position
App Ops running on a Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S 4.
That's it! Facebook no longer has permission to read your contacts. You can go through every app on the device now and, with granular control, enable or disable each apps' permissions to better suit your needs.
A word of warning... you'll find listings for things like Android System, your home screen app, Phone, and more — but you must use caution when using this tool. Disabling the right permissions on the wrong app could brick your device. Make sure you leave the Android core systems and services alone! Only use App Ops on apps you've installed from the Google Play Store and nothing else. Also understand that by revoking certain permissions on apps, they won't always function properly. For example, should you turn off Post notification on the Facebook app, the app will no longer be able to post a notification on your Facebook wall. This is a rather innocuous example, but you get the idea.
It is my hope that Google rolls this type of system into upcoming releases of Android. I understand why they pulled it from being used in non-rooted devices. Ultimately, the average user could easily break functionality in apps without knowing what they've done. Google needs to think this through very carefully — but with the right take on App Ops, Google could vastly improve the current permissions system.
What do you think? Should an App Ops-like system find its way into the default Android builds? If not, how would you improve the current Android permission system? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.