paranoid I tell you what, I love me some Google Reader. One of the first things I did when I got my phone was set up a shortcut to Reader’s mobile interface. It’s fairly robust, but it is in the browser, so it’s a little slow even on WiFi. On Edge, it’s unbearable. And forget about offline access. What I needed was an app.

But now that there are several to choose from, I’m still using that shortcut to the browser. Why? They are 3rd party apps that ask for my Google login information. I’m sure these developers are nice folks and not the least bit interested in identity theft, but I just can’t get past the idea of giving them access to not only my primary email account (Gmail), not only confidential documents (Google Docs), but also the power to spend my money (Google Checkout).

Let’s take a look at a few apps I’d really like to use, but won’t.

  • Greed was the first Google Reader app I came across. A friend of mine recommended it to me. He loves it. I won’t use it, because it asks for my Google login information. And dude, it’s called Greed. Doesn’t exactly make me feel great about giving the app my login info.
  • NewsRob was the next Reader app I found. It gets great reviews. I have no doubt that it’s wonderful. But I won’t use it, because it asks for my Google login information.
  • The latest Reader app I won’t use is Talking RSS Reader, which uses a synthesized voice to speak items from your Google Reader feeds to you. I thought it’d be nice to use in the car. But it wants my Google login info, so I won’t be using it.
  • It goes beyond Google Reader, of course. I’d love to use GDocs for Android to access my Google Docs. But I won’t. You know why by now, right?
  • mAnalytics is one of several apps out there that allow you to keep track of your Google Analytics account on your Android phone. I, of course, will not use any of them.

So whose fault is this? I know, many of you might say it’s my fault. I’m just being paranoid. I should stop worrying and learn to love giving out my Google login info. Some might say it’s Google’s fault, for making the same password that gets you into Reader also work for Gmail and Checkout. But that integration is a feature, too, and Google does support OAuth.

I hate to lay the blame on developers, but wouldn’t it be great if, the first time you opened an app like NewsRob, it took you to a page on Google’s servers in the browser to authorize the app? I admit, my knowledge is pretty incomplete here, and there may be reasons why you can’t use OAuth for these purposes. But even failing OAuth, there is another way.

readerwidget Let’s look at a couple more apps: little ol’ Reader Widget Small, and its big brother, Reader Widget Pro. Both are widgets that provide basic info about your Google Reader account (number of unread items and recent headlines). Both use “Automatic authorization against Google Reader API,” so no login information is required. In other words, my phone is already hooked up with my Google account, and this app takes advantage of that to eliminate the need for users to turn over the keys to their house to some guy who says he won’t take anything.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is concerned about this sort of thing. I have to think there’s an audience out there for apps that access various Google services without requiring users to provide login info.

What do you think? Am I being paranoid, or just appropriately cautious? And if you’re a developer with some insight into hurdles I’m unaware of, please let me know in the comments.

rscope1Update: The developer of ReaderScope, one of those Google Reader apps that I would not use, took this post to heart and pushed an update out today that enables auto-login. Credentialing works the same as in the Reader Widget apps, and there’s also the option to supply login info if your Reader login is different than the one associated with your phone.

In his post about the update, he also explains that Google only supports OAuth for webapps, not for mobile or desktop apps, and that the solution he did use is not perfect: it will only work on “Google experience” phones.

I tested it out and auto-login worked perfectly. The app seems nice, though I’ve not had a chance yet to put it through its paces.

So, I now have a Google Reader app I can use. That’s wonderful, but the larger issue remains.

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  1. How about you just make a different gmail account for for this? I dont understand why you think a developer can access your RSS feeds without logging in as you to do so. Most of the apps are just a GUI built around the existing mobile site.

    • I've thought about doing that, but my Reader set up is pretty complicated at this point and I have quite a few people following my shared items within Reader, so I really don't want to start over from scratch.

  2. i also think you should just create a different account for reader, that said i definitely see your point that if some apps can take advantage of the fact that your phone is already connected to your google account and not make you log in, then that seems like something they all should do

  3. ((*sigh*)) missing the point entirely.

    Anyone this paranoid about their Google login probably shouldn't be using the cloud to start with.

    • Well hi there, Mark Zuckerberg! How's that cavalier attitude toward other people's data going?
      Well I'm sorry to hear that.
      Couldn't have happened to a nicer douche.

  4. Wow! its like your were reading my mind.
    I was just trying Greed for the first time today and I had a similar reaction when it asked me for my Google account info. I did go ahead and enter it but I am not feeling great about it.
    I agree with you, there should be a better way. Maybe Google should offer up some guidelines for developers and users.

  5. While I haven't had a problem with newsrob, I do think that the developers need to start using the latter aproach, auto-authentication using the phone's logged in google account. And of course, give the option, don't do something like the 1st version of Google Voice that was forcing users to just use the logged in account and not let them put a manual account.

  6. I too am vaguely bothered by apps that ask for my google credentials. My hunch is that it's simply easier to write a program that asks for them, than it is to write one that does oauth properly.

  7. If it were some weird-ass spam app I might be worried, but apps like NewsRob have track records. It just depends on how badly you want the functionality of the app.

  8. Totally valid point. That's why when facing with choice of prompting for uname/pwd for Twitter account in Droidin I choose to implement OAuth API. And the fact that I need to collect the same for core functionality (LinkedIn account) really bugs me. I don't want you passwords fellows, but I don't always have a choice. As far as Google account – developer does have a choice so I would not use such app ether

  9. i understand your 'paranoia' although i don't share it, but perhaps i am still a bit innocent. but the users of my application do share your feelings of security.

    'my' application is decaf ( some friends and i spent a fair number of evenings, weekends and holidays to finish it for the challenge. we somehow made the deadline :) with decaf you can manage and monitor your amazon ec2 servers.

    having someone read your email is spooky, of course. but if someone can reboot your servers is something entirely different, i think. contrary to authentication a gmail account decaf needs you to authenticate to an amazon account. decaf can't use the system to figure out credentials and check validity.

    most of our users administer systems. and with that job comes a required paranoia, because if it doesn't work it is always IT, right?! i haven't yet heard from people they refused to use decaf because they are required to give their secret keys. but some of them ask us to implement some sort of additional security layer (like a pin, or the screen lock perhaps) to protect from unauthorized use.

    we don't yet really know how to deal with this. how would you like to see an application like this handle your sensitive information?

  10. Hi,

    My app uses Google Appspot to host it's cloud functionality (Thinking Space, AG reviewed it recently, thanks!). I have chosen to use the Google authentication system to control user access.

    Unfortunately, this means that currently the users are required to enter their usernames and passwords in order to use the cloud function, something which I am not happy very happy about either!

    I was hoping that Android 1.6 would include an integrated login facility, as to my knowledge this simply hasn't existed before (although I very surprised to read that Reader Widget has got this sussed for at least the Google Reader service…).

    As a developer, I would love to see more support from Google to provide us with proper API's or documentation that provide peace-of-mind method of solving this issue.

  11. A lot of people have covered my point of view, but here's my 2p's worth. I've chatted with the developer of Newsrob, and as anyone who's joined the Newsrob list will know he's an enthusiastic, communicative guy who has produced the single best offline RSS reader on the Android platform – for free (and believe me, I know, I bought Greed, and have tried BlueRSS, Readerscope, Netashare, and many others – the only one that actually works as you'd want is Newsrob).

    I think you should be careful posting FUD like this; unless you have any evidence that the developers of these apps are stealing credentials, then you should be aware that a post like this can seriously damage their reputation. Spreading paranoia like this does nobody any good.

    It'd probably also help if you did a bit of research first, as currently the technology for doing what you suggest doesn't really exist yet. There's some issues, which are explained in the Newsrob topic here:
    There seems to be a bug which prevents most developers from being able to access the SID needed to do this:

    So the main problem appears to be with Android and Google Apps itself. Perhaps you should contact Google and ask them to make authentication work better?

    I echo the comments above though – if you're that paranoid, you should probably either a) not use the cloud at all or b) set up a 2nd account for your Reader feeds. You have to remember that whatever auth is used (even the Google OAuth), somebody with your level of paranoia will have to assume that access to your reader account will implicitly give access to your email.

    The other point is that even if OAuth worked, it's not going to solve issues such as people (like me) who have a work and personal Reader account; the former which has a different set of credentials to the ones I log into Android with. Until Eclair arrives (which gives us multiple Google account login for Gmail etc) my only option is to enter my username/password, but I'm more than satisfied with the security of that, having conversed with the developer of Newrob frequently.

  12. Oh, one other thing – comments like "And dude, it’s called Greed. Doesn’t exactly make me feel great about giving the app my login info" just show poor journalism. It's pretty obvious that the name is a derivative of Google Reader, but even if the app name what "StealMyFeeds" what has that got to do with whether the app is going to mine your data? You're seriously coming across as a Luddite in this post.

  13. One other point while I'm ranting – you mention the Reader Widget doing the 'right thing' and using the inbuilt auth to access your Reader feeds….. given your level of paranoia, you do realise that by using that mechanism, the Reader Widget could (if it so wished) access your email and your Docs…? So you'd better uninstall that one, eh? :)

    • Thats not true. The permissions for the app say "Your Google Accounts" and underneath "access other Google services". If it could access your email or docs it would say so there too.

  14. you are too paranoid. So I take it you won't even use steel to open up your google account? what makes you think the lady who wrote the built in browser isn't secretly stealing your info?

  15. You are perfectly right to not want to enter your password in arbitrary apps. Whether it's the app developer's fault or Google's fault isn't really clear. What is clear is that many apps currently have a non-optimal solution to authentication, and this issue needs to be fixed! This issue needs to be brought up and talked about. So, disregard the people that are calling you over-paranoid. You are perfectly right to not want to give your password out freely.

  16. thanks for the heads up! i never really thought too much about giving my google account details to the android 3rd party apps. Don't know why, but it definitly scares me to know that somebody can potentially use my logindata and access EVERYTHING i use from the google services.

    Therefore i have split my account, and use a seperate account for analytics and rss reader. That sorts the most out.

    I'm still using NewsRob, because this app is just way to good to be not used. Just open a seperate google account and use it! Its by far the best reader app out there on any platform!

  17. As unpopular as your stance may be among ADD-afflicted fanboys and know-nothing douches in general, you make a perfectly valid point. Expressing your concerns (as a user) and/or asking questions is not 'paranoia' – its common sense, based on heuristics readily available to anybody over the age of fifteen. And a guy who names his app 'Greed' – rather than the less provocative 'GRead' – should know that he's going to be flamebait. ;)

    Even when gathered with the best of intentions (in apps called 'Fluffy Kitties') and handled with an accepted level of care, bad things can happen to our data. Sure – the dev community and its groupies may get pissy at the perceived insult, when asked why they request sensitive info in an (apparently) casual way. 'I know so-and-so and he's no crook!' To which I say, 'Cool, but _I_ don't know him. And, for that matter, who in heck are _you_?'

    Further, any such 'circle-the-wagons' approach denies the facts. Few people have reason to suspect that TJ Maxx would try to rip off their credit cards, but after we read how easily – and for how long – their system was hacked (, security issues became mainstream. Given all the news stories about data-theft, folks with zero concern must be either folks who can't read or those living carefree lives in their parent's basements.

    Besides, its never a good idea to tell your customers they're nuts, even if you think so. Better to look at the problem from their standpoint and ask your own questions, to clarify the issue. At very least, the devs could acknowledge our concerns and provide a useful response. Maybe they'd suggest that we are asking questions of the wrong parties. Maybe they would blame technical issues, beyond their control. If so, then they should say so.

    After all, if the upshot is that we end up transferring our concerns to Google, OHA, et al., that's not a bad thing. Heck, maybe our data are perfectly secure, as-is, and making us happy is a simple matter of adding disclaimers, like you'd find in desktop apps: 'Your user info is stored on your system, not ours.'…or a bunch of boilerplate about encryption and session IDs, etc. At least we'd have more to go on than we do, now.

  18. Can you remind me again how much you're paying google to make your life easier, or is it just easier to be a paranoid over-demanding fool?

    • sorry, but thats nonsense. It's VERY good to know that there CAN BE certain risks, when being to loose with your google userdata. Google doesn't have the best track record when its about data privacy anyway, and the fact that there is no way for a 3rd party app to get granted access on subservices only (like google reader) is very bad.

      most people have ONE google login, and everything connected to it, and you want to tell me that anybody who is concerned with their private data is paranoid?

      Anybody having a clue about data privacy has to agree that the current way of 3rd party apps is not the best solution. I wouldn't put the apps on the black list, but rather just open another gmail account only for 3rd party app purposes. Just a small step, but it will give you much more security.

      And BTW: google gets their money by using our DATA. they don't take fees, they take our informations, they scan pur emails, they check our analytics and btw they will now also knwo everything about many google wave projects. And that will be the most valuable asset in the future: information. So please refrain from such nonsense conclusions like "how much you're paying google to make your life easier". You haven't understood anything about the market google is operating.

      • Thank you for being such a patronising arsehole. Anyone who is paranoid enough not to use an app but hasn't the sense to have at least a second google account is clearly as dumb as you seem to think I am

        • Actually I think you're pretty dumb too. I'm just not going to waste my time whomping you with my throbbing logic.

    • He's paying Google with his eyeballs and attention for the ads they display. That seems to be working VERY WELL for Google shareholders like me, and we appreciate it.

      Shoo, troll.

  19. people, what a consternation (my mother always used that word, in dutch, 'consternatie'.)

    there is one guy who writes an interesting article. he clearly has a point, because he is, after all a user. he basically lets us know he would like to use them but he has second thoughts. what is wrong with that?!

    i think we are dealing here with something that is like religion, in the sense that there is no overlap in the the opposing views, and there is hardly any understanding for the 'other side'. i think this is a pity and a waste of everyone's time.

    can someone (anyone) please try to shed their thoughts on how to overcome these (initial) hurdles in one of the most promising (mobile) platforms to date? please, use your passion to come up with solution. perhaps we can defeat that other religion iphone :P

  20. I admit, I've thought the same thing about the app name "Greed", and furthermore "NewsRob"… Greedy robbers aren't things I want associated with my Google credentials :) That said, after months of hesitation I finally gave in and NewsRob is now my #1 favorite app. Most useful, amazing interface, well thought out, just perfect. Much respect to the NewsRob developer.

  21. Hi Chuck,
    I agree 100%! I don't give out my google password to *any* third party apps – even ones that have
    excellent reviews like the non-official Google Voice one that had great reviews.

    Wish Google would fix this by allowing me to create credentials that have limited access that I can feed into the app…..

  22. To eclipse and others who ask 'why me worry?' please remember that your google login can be used to access your google email and many people, including myself, use their google email accounts for more than just keeping in touch with friends, many use it in their professional work (either by forwarding their work email to their google account or using google's hosted services), thus our google credentials are damn important and valuable. Please don't assume everyone treats their google credentials as though it's worthless, it's quite the opposite for many professionals.

  23. On the other hand you are all forgetting that it is possible to use google apps account when setting up android – but, google apps account doesn't have reader integration. so for me, thank you developer for letting me define my account :), otherwise i could not even use the app

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