Monthly Archives: November 2015

Regulating Mobile Platform Fragmentation – Just Say “No” to Government Regulations

Mobile devices and the applications within them help organize our day-to-day lives. Mobile OS/platform fragmentation (mobile devices running different versions of a operating system) is a problem worth worrying about from the top down (top being the user). OS fragmentation is a topic least discussed, and like net neutrality, the issue could be closer to attracting attention from Governments more than ever.

As security becomes more and more pertinent these days, personal security on the mobile spectrum is becoming even more alarming. When OS developers like Google and Apple confirm vulnerabilities, it can be difficult to get users to update their operating systems to reduce exposure to the risks. The fact users are using different forms of the OS makes eliminating the risk challenging and we know where there’s risk in personal security, there is government interest.

Regulating such processes like versioning, in my opinion, is the business of the OS developer who should be listening to the users and their experiences. Like other areas of mobile technology, the government is looking for ways to mandate, which can be a big headache for OS. The fact of a higher power governing the entire process is somewhat scary. In 2013, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) published a study listing Android OS as a primary target to threats and vulnerabilities, mentioning the open platform was inconsistent on devices throughout the numerous versions. The main concern listed in the study was the differences in versions amongst a myriad of devices that had their OSes either outdated or unsynchronized against current releases. The study targeted the Android system since the OS is primary amongst many devices unlike their competitor, iOS whose primary devices are their own.

In this day and age, OS developers should be focused on driving mobile into the future, not patching up the past. Government regulations would force these same developers to maintain out of date versions of their OS’s so users of an older version could still use their devices. Yes this sounds like a push towards a good change, and would probably save the user some headache and cash down the road, but in my opinion, policing versioning of at any length would slow down device production and stifle mobile’s still young and innovative future.

At the pace mobile is going, there should be no plan of slowing down. Government interference will pose a sort of unease and take control out of the hands of the creatives by enforcing limitations where there should be flexibility. It would stagnate OS developers from releasing the “next big feature” and create more rhetoric having developers this late in the game scurry to adjust.

Consider a regulation to restrict the amount of versions an OS maker can provide throughout devices. The purpose could be within reason, to slow the various types of platforms available so users can experience consistency in use and security, but the reality is this would create even more issues and allow more loop holes for threats like malware which could become extremely difficult to avoid. Malicious attempts are created with knowledge of the system, if the system was a fixed amongst devices could you imagine what risks a system would be open to?

Carriers would be affected just as much as the OS developer. They would most likely be limited on device hardware they can offer based on capabilities and performance of the OS. They would have to be willing to make adjustments to their connectivity in models depending on which policies are put in place.

I think the big question here is “Is it necessary?” Are OS developers too lenient on how they deal with fragmentation, thus making government interference an overdue possibility? What should we as of mobile engineers and or as a community do to support a resolution to remediate these issues?

The fragmentation issue is bigger than anything the government can predict or even manage. It is something the mobile industry as a whole would need to confront, based off of the needs of the consumers who are purchasing and utilizing the devices every day. It is best the OS developers look for standardized ways to provide consistency in their development and pass along that same consistency to the devices they are used on. A consideration would be to standardize operating systems and include guidelines on customizations device makers would have to consider. Removing the ability to customize their systems, which sets them apart from the competitors is a crucial setback of their product offering and would ultimately affect marketability. OS developers can set stricter criteria on what can be changed, added or removed in their operating systems, constructing a plan around integrated security updates to mitigate consistency in versioning across platforms. This could allow developers a better grasp on how to tackle vulnerabilities in the long run.

Having a governing body enforce policy on something they can and should not try to predict is over kill. It is the job of the platform developers who are providing the operating systems to pay close attention to the consumer and meet the needs, all while pushing mobility into the bright and progressive future. We as application developers should be voicing our opinions, as we are the driving force behind the amazing applications within these ecosystems. I’m excited to hear what you all think of platform governance and the issues with fragmentation on mobile. #ProgressTheWeb #UrbanTechSF

L.E. ‘Akita’ Nichols
twitter: @AkitaUTSF

 

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