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ACLU blames carriers is demanding a full investigation of the issue

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the unusual step of injecting itself into the smartphone discussion, asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate America's top carriers over claims of Android abuse.

According to the ACLU, Google Inc. (GOOG) regularly puts out patches and upgrades to its Android operating system -- the world's most used smartphone operating system.    But in its 17-page report, it accuses America's top wireless carriers of recklessly endangering consumers by not rolling out updates fast enough.

The report calls out both of America's top two carriers, AT&T, Inc. (T) and Verizon Wireless -- jointly owned by Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc. (LON:VOD).  But it also accuses Sprint Nextel Corp. (S) and Deutsche Telekom AG's (ETR:DTE) T-Mobile USA of contributing to the problem, as well.

The ACLU wants the FTC to force carriers either to offer customers refunds or to force them to provide warnings that they are inadequately protecting customers.  The advocacy admits that it is unusual for it to look to protect consumers (which is typically the job of other more specialized advocacies), but it said in this case that the security risks from the carrier negligence could be used to justify Orwellian new federal laws -- like the controversial CISPA bill that recently passed the House.

ACLU lawyer Chris Soghoian, who authored and submitted the complaint last Tuesday, comments, "This is part of our attempt to reframe the cybersecurity agenda,.  Before violating anyone's privacy, the government should first be addressing the low-hanging fruit that everyone can agree on."

Android smartphones
The ACLU is targeting America's top carriers for sluggish Android updates.
[Image Source: Android and Me]

While the report may echo the frustrations of many Android users, it was met with scorn and derision by figures in the telecom industry.  Verizon responded that it releases patches and updates "as quickly as possible", but that it must commit "rigorous testing" before any release.  Carriers argue that the nature of Android -- which allows both OEMs and carriers to modify or disable certain functionality (e.g. tethering) -- makes testing a slower and more arduous process.  

They argue that rushed updates could "break" smartphones causing them to gobble data unnecessarily, be unable to run apps, or be unable to make calls.  Indeed this has happened on occasion in the past.

But not everyone is buying that excuse.  Carnegie Mellon Univ. Computer Science Professor Travis Breaux comments, "There are standard practices for testing and evaluating patches.  Microsoft does this all the time."

Sources: ACLU [complaint], AP

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RE: I fail to see....
By Solandri on 4/22/2013 6:49:21 PM , Rating: 3
While I agree the ACLU isn't the right organization to be pushing this, the right organization (the FTC) has been negligent and hasn't pushed it at all. So I'm willing to overlook the ACLU overstepping its charter to take up this issue.

The industry really needs to move to a model where you can buy the phone directly from the manufacturer (or retailers selling on behalf of the manufacturer). Then the carriers activate your phone. Right now the carriers will for the most part only activate phones they sell you, which leads to customer lock-in and all sorts of insanity like 6-12 months for an update to trickle down to the end user.

RE: I fail to see....
By StanO360 on 4/22/2013 6:52:38 PM , Rating: 2
Why? Who are you or the FTC to tell people how to buy a telephone?

You don't want fragmentation buy an iPhone or a Windows phone. If I don't like the OS on a potential phone I don't buy it. Personally, I bought a phone with ICS with bloatware, will it affect future buying decisions . . . probably. But I don't want the FTC limiting my choices.

RE: I fail to see....
By TakinYourPoints on 4/22/2013 8:20:30 PM , Rating: 2
Carriers have the right to sell subsidized phones with a contract, and you can get pretty much any phone these days without a contract.

Stricter enforcement of updates should be the norm though. It is ridiculous that an Android update for perfectly fast and capable hardware has such lag time behind when Google releases it on Nexus devices.

The model of Nexus devices should be the norm across all Android hardware.

People have been locked into two year contracts with no updates, the only roadblocks are their carrier or hardware manufacturer. The reasons are not technical.

Feature sets aside, security is another big reason why this is important. Things are bad enough now without timely updates.

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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