Security and privacy

Android applications run in a sandbox, an isolated area of the system that does not have access to the rest of the system's resources, unless access permissions are explicitly granted by the user when the application is installed. Before installing an application, the Play Store displays all required permissions: a game may need to enable vibration or save data to an SD card, for example, but should not need to read SMS messages or access the phonebook. After reviewing these permissions, the user can choose to accept or refuse them, installing the application only if they accept. The sandboxing and permissions system lessens the impact of vulnerabilities and bugs in applications, but developer confusion and limited documentation has resulted in applications routinely requesting unnecessary permissions, reducing its effectiveness. Several security firms, such as Lookout Mobile Security, AVG Technologies, and McAfee, have released antivirus software for Android devices. This software is ineffective as sandboxing also applies to such applications, limiting their ability to scan the deeper system for threats.



Research from security company Trend Micro lists premium service abuse as the most common type of Android malware, where text messages are sent from infected phones to premium-rate telephone numbers without the consent or even knowledge of the user. Other malware displays unwanted and intrusive adverts on the device, or sends personal information to unauthorised third parties. Security threats on Android are reportedly growing exponentially; however, Google engineers have argued that the malware and virus threat on Android is being exaggerated by security companies for commercial reasons, and have accused the security industry of playing on fears to sell virus protection software to users. Google maintains that dangerous malware is actually extremely rare, and a survey conducted by F-Secure showed that only 0.5% of Android malware reported had come from the Google Play store.

Google currently uses their Google Bouncer malware scanner to watch over and scan the Google Play store apps. It is intended to flag up suspicious apps and warn users of any potential issues with an application before they download it. Android version 4.2 Jelly Bean was released in 2012 with enhanced security features, including a malware scanner built into the system, which works in combination with Google Play but can scan apps installed from third party sources as well, and an alert system which notifies the user when an app tries to send a premium-rate text message, blocking the message unless the user explicitly authorises it.

Android smartphones have the ability to report the location of Wi-Fi access points, encountered as phone users move around, to build databases containing the physical locations of hundreds of millions of such access points. These databases form electronic maps to locate smartphones, allowing them to run apps like Foursquare, Google Latitude, Facebook Places, and to deliver location-based ads. Third party monitoring software such as TaintDroid, an academic research-funded project, can, in some cases, detect when personal information is being sent from applications to remote servers. In August 2013, Google released the Android Device Manager, a component that allows users to remotely track, locate, and wipe their Android device through an online interface. As it is implemented through Google Play Services instead of within Android itself, it is available to most Android devices with version 2.2 and higher.

The open-source nature of Android allows security contractors to take existing devices and adapt them for highly secure uses. For example Samsung has worked with General Dynamics through their Open Kernel Labs acquisition to rebuild Jelly Bean on top of their hardened microvisor for the "Knox" project.

As part of the broader 2013 mass surveillance disclosures it was revealed in September 2013 that the American and British intelligence agencies, the NSA and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) respectively, have access to the user data in iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Android phones. They are able to read almost all smartphone information, including SMS, location, emails, and notes.