Promethean ActivPanels and the Google Play Deception

Post in News by John Mulvaney on 13th June 2018

We’ve shown some convincing evidence of how implementing Promethean ActivPanels will result in user frustration and lost instructional time. If that hasn’t been enough to convince you that a SMART Board is the right choice for your teachers and students, what if we told you that one of Promethean’s main selling points — something that is featured prominently on the Promethean website as a huge benefit — could actually put your school at a financial risk, open your school’s network up to potentially harmful viruses, and result in teacher’s suddenly losing access to their favorite instructional apps? Would that convince you?

Educational Apps from Google Play

Visit Promethean World and you will read all about how a Promethean ActivPanel delivers “tablet-like functionality” and you can “[a]ccess the vast, ever-expanding world of educational apps.” Visit with Promethean at a conference, and they immediately show you all the apps that you can use on an ActivPanel. This is accomplished through “side-loading” the Google Play store on Promethean’s ActivConnect Android module.

This one-page document came included with Promethean ActivPanels purchased in 2017:

How to side-load the Google Play store on Promethean ActivPanels

Here is the information included in recently purchased Promethean ActivPanel i-Series models:

Google Services install instructions from the new Promethean ActivPanel i-Series

Promethean clearly wants teachers to do this, and sees Google Play as a key competitive differentiator over SMART Boards.

A Violation of Google Policies

But buyer beware: any interactive display vendor (Promethean, Triumph, etc.) with any Android-based device promoting the use of or access to the Google Play Store or Google Play Services is asking their customers to violate Google’s policies. This includes the use of an onboard or external Android device, or methods to circumvent and manually load/deploy Google Play Services. Google makes no exceptions to this policy.

Android-based devices that use Google Play Store or Google Play Services must be Google Mobile Service (GMS) certified and Google does not provide GMS certification for any device for use on a large format interactive display. It doesn’t matter if it is a Promethean Board, SMART Board, etc.

Google’s official statement is as follows:

Certified Android devices offer users consistent experiences when using apps from Google and the Play Store, as well as various security benefits through Google Play Protect. We acknowledge that some manufacturers are building and selling devices that have not been certified by Google. Please see the website for more details.

The risks of using uncertified Promethean ActivPanels

What are the risks if using uncertified ActivPanels? This is a great question, and one that all Promethean customers should be asking. If you lost access to  Google Play Services because you are using an uncertified device, your Google apps may not function. Google Play Services manages updates to your apps. Without it, customers would be responsible for manually keeping apps updated.

Managing apps on interactive displays for individual teachers is difficult to implement under ideal conditions, imagine if you had to run updates to each teachers’ apps on all Promethean ActivePanels in your district? This is an onerous task that leaves your susceptible to malware and viruses if you miss critical updates.

Here’s a list of risks:

  • Devices not certified with Google will be actively barred from signing into Google Apps. Google logins on unlicensed/uncertified devices will now fail at setup, and a warning message will pop up stating “Device is not certified by Google.”
  • Uncertified devices may not be secure and may be susceptible to a data breach.
  • Data on uncertified devices man not back up securely.
  • Uncertified devices may not get Android system updates, or app updates
  • Google apps on uncertified devices are not licensed and may not be real Google apps. This is a huge security red flag!
  • Apps and features on uncertifed devices may not work correctly
  • Customers are responsible for servicing apps manually when publishers update them.

In a very deceptive way, Promethean is telling customers that you can side-load Google Play and GMS onto the ActivConnect. Here is what they have on their support website. Pay close attention to the third paragraph.

Google® Mobile Services (GMS) does not come pre-loaded on the Promethean ActivConnect™ G or the ActivConnect OPS-G Android™ modules. However, because GMS provides many value-add features such as Google Suite tools (Drive, Docs, Slides, etc.) and the Google Play Store, Promethean shares information with its customers on how to download and install the open-source Android Package Kit (APK) that has been shown to work on Promethean Android modules.

Promethean is committed to delivering the best experience for ActivConnect-G and ActivConnect OPS-G, and while it has been shown that GMS works on these devices, Promethean is working with Google to evaluate the process for certifying these devices. As more information becomes available, Promethean will share the same with its channel partners and customers.

It is the customer’s choice whether to download and install GMS on the Promethean Android modules. If a customer chooses to download and install GMS, Promethean recommends that each customer maintain a safe and secure IT environment. This can be achieved through various device management platforms. Both ActivConnect-G and ActivConnect OPS-G are compatible with several device management platforms, such as, Google G Suite, VMware AirWatch®, and Radix ™ Viso. Promethean recommends using a device management platform that allows IT administrators to install and manage approved apps along with appropriate whitelisting/blacklisting policies.

Promethean is telling customers, “Go ahead, violate Google’s policies, and do it at your own legal and personal risk.”

The Safe Alternative with SMART Boards

There is a responsible way to provide teachers with the educational apps that they find valuable. SMART will be releasing its own version of a trusted, secure app store in 2018. SMART is working with Google to make sure it adheres to it’s policies regarding apps and an app store. SMART’s onboard computing module, called iQ, does not allow customers to side-load the Google Play Store because it is a security risk and could stop functioning without notice.

When considering Promethean Activpanels or SMART Boards, you should seriously consider the risks associated with using an unlicensed, unsecured app store. If you wouldn’t risk your school’s network security when purchasing any other IT product, why would you risk it with the purchase of Promethean ActivPanels?

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