Lifehacker reported earlier today that the latest version of Woolworths' Android app sought far more permissions than seemed necessary for a shopping application. Woolworths has acknowledged the problem, which it says was due to a bug during development, and says a new update ditching the unwanted permissions will be released soon.
Woolworths began investigating the issue after being contacted by Lifehacker, and eventually issued the following explanation to us:
As part of the last upgrade to the Woolworths app for Android where we added new features like a health and wellbeing product finder, a shared shopping list and a collection of Margaret Fulton Christmas recipes, we also included a number of updates to improve the overall performance of the app. Unfortunately, there was an error in one of the applied fixes which incorrectly triggered unnecessary permission requests from Google. These permissions are not required by the Woolworths app. We are currently working with Google and our developers to resolve this issue and remove these unnecessary permission requests. Woolworth apologises for any inconvenience.
Prior to issuing that statement, Woolworths had updated the entry for the app on the Android market with a message that seemed to suggest that some permissions were required so it could track app usage and performance:
System Tools permission allows Woolworths to track how users are using the Woolworths application. The tracking will help Woolworths better understand which features in the app are being used and how. This information will help Woolworths improve the application in future releases.
Clearly, however, that wasn't the whole story.
Some commenters on our earlier post suggested that all the permissions might have a legitimate explanation, but that the description on the Android market didn't make a good case for why they were needed. While that evidently wasn't the case this time around, it is a sound point worth reinforcing: if developers want to use unusual features, they need to document and explain that very carefully. In the meantime, anyone wanting to the Woolworths app is still best advised to wait for the update to be released.