updated 11:59 pm EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
Old devices 'as dangerous as exploding toaster,' says group
A US Federal Trade Commission filing made by the American Civil Liberties Union is asking the regulatory agency to investigate cellphone carriers' slow updates to newer versions of Google's Android operating system. The ACLU claims that the reticence to upgrade has left many smartphone users with dangerously out-of-date and unsafe versions of vital software, putting users at risk for identity theft and other cyber crimes.
The complaint, weighing in at 17 pages, accused carriers AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon of ignoring security warnings and delaying updates unnecessarily. Google is not named in the complaint. The report claims less than two percent of Android devices worldwide have the most up-to-date version of the Android OS, with as many as 40 percent using versions more than two years old. Addressed in the complaint by the ACLU are the capabilities of older hardware, and the possibility of the devices not supporting a newer operating system.
Calling the issue similar in severity to "a toaster that blows up," ACLU spokesman Chris Soghoian says of the matter that "at its core, it's not all that different from any other defective product issue." The ACLU says that the carriers expose Android users to "substantial harm" with the sometimes-glacial speed of updates, and is asking the FTC to force carriers to warn customers about the issue, or issue refunds to dissatisfied customers.
The ACLU may be using the issue as a vehicle to point out shortcomings in the US government's addressing of Internet security. "This is part of our attempt to reframe the cybersecurity agenda," Soghoian said. "Before violating anyone's privacy, the government should first be addressing the low-hanging fruit that everyone can agree on."