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.”
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.”
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