If you've ever been stuck in a two-year commitment with an Android smartphone that isn't receiving the latest software update due to your carrier taking their sweet time in issuing it, the ACLU is trying to help you out. In a complaint for injunctive relief filed on April 16, the ACLU tells the Federal Trade Commission that the lack of updates leads to software security holes that could have otherwise been fixed had a software update been issued. You can read more about the issue here.

However, it's not entirely the carrier's fault. AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon have often flaunted their power over their portfolio of smartphones, with software updates being just one way of showing the control carriers possess. It is now a bigger issue according to the ACLU because some devices are simply being deemed obselete with no warning upon purchase that the Android device will not be supported with security patches for as long as the two-year contract is in session.

With each new software update from Google, hardware manufacturers have the option of modifying the Android source code to add bits and pieces to their UI (Sense, TouchWiz, etc.). In the process, these additions and changes are then reviewed by the carrier. This is the bottleneck where the ACLU is speaking upon the buyer's "rights" in owning a secure device capable of thwarting the harshest security attacks. In other words, a smartphone that won't be discontinued in the software department.

According to the ACLU's complaint, the majority of Android smartphones "never receive critical software security updates, exposing consumers and their private data to significant cybersecurity-related risks." The 16-page complaint goes on to say that the major wireless carriers have "engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices by failing to warn their customers about known, unpatched security flaws in the mobile devices sold by the companies."

These are no doubt valid complaints on behalf of the consumer by the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU Founder Roger Baldwin is quoted on the About Us page of the site as saying "So as long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we'll be called a democracy." However, carriers rarely make policy changes despite customer displeasure which means their control is far from fair.

I certainly agree consumers have a right to the latest software updates, but the problem is much deeper than the 16-page ACLU complaint outlines.

For as long as Android has been around, smartphones have not been a part of a democratic state. Carriers have told us when our devices will get updates and it has always been a rough process unless you have a Google-branded Nexus smartphone. Without getting too political, the ACLU complaint suggests we deserve the latest updates because of security vulnerabilities, and that the carriers are delaying our "right to a safe connection." This is true, however we have never had any say in when software updates were to be issued, so why is it a problem now?

The software upgrade path of Android smartphones has never been a smooth process. In fact, one could argue the software update path between OEM's and carriers is as smooth as it has ever been. The reason it's an issue now is because of Android's grasp on the majority of the mobile market. As user reliance on cloud storage and a centralized source of data increases, software patches and security vulnerabilities mean much more than what they have in the past.

What the ACLU is speaking on behalf of the public for is quite simple. The ACLU wants Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T to be more transparent about the unpatched security vulnerabilities and outline the existence and severity of said security issues.

The ACLU is also seeking the ability for customers of the big four carriers to opt out of a contractual commitment without penalty if their Android smartphone has "not received prompt, regular security updates."

Lastly, the ACLU is going out on an even thinner limb and requesting that customers receive a refund or exchange to a smartphone that will receive timely software updates.

My perspective on software updates has never really been an issue because I choose to root my Android smartphones. I have outlined my reasoning in a past editorial on why rooting is beneficial to the user, but it has never been more applicable now. One could argue rooting bypasses this entire ACLU complaint and rules it invalid if you chose to root your smartphone and inject it with a software version that contains better security patches.

But from this perspective, both the carrier and the manufacturer of the smartphone share equal responsibility in issuing software updates. Yet when you root your Android device, the act of doing so tends to void your warranty on the carrier and manufacturer level. Software updates have forced consumers who care about security in between a rock and a hard place.

It is for this simple reason that the ACLU's complaint holds weight. Since we are cornered into voiding a warranty due to unbearably slow Android software updates, the ACLU's complaint should serve as a wake up call to the carriers. Of course, warranty is just one bit of the issue, and the truth of the matter is if we had the latest security patches on our smartphones, smartphone connectivity would be more comfortable and there would be nothing to complain about.

The ACLU is speaking on behalf of the consumer's rights over their purchase, and though their request isn't likely to make it very far due to carrier control, we can still relish in the fact that there is a mutual feeling that Android devices should not be deemed unsupported after a purchase.

What do you think about the ACLU's complaint against the FTC? Do carriers have a responsibility to issue timely Android software updates to patch security vulnerabilities? Speak up in the comments below!

Image via Android Central.

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50 Reactions to this post

"Do Android smartphones deserve the latest software, or are minimal software updates excusable?"

Please limit your reaction to 140 characters or use comments for a longer reply :)
Thanks for your participation! :)

Odin Johnson
Odin Johnson Luckily Samsung supports their latest products more than other manufacturers.
Odin Johnson
Odin Johnson I paid full price for my phone. No carrier subsidies here. Update should be included considering the actual cost of a phone.
Raul Blacksten
Raul Blacksten When mine recently updated, it changed things, and not for the better. For example, I lost all of my photo albums for some system I don't understand, where I can't easily find my photos, and cannot seem to change. It also altered my contacts for a MUCH less useful format, which again, I cannot change. I could go on!
Mauricio DeSean Cruz
Mauricio DeSean Cruz Both! Contract and None Contract Android Phones should get the Android OS Updates
Charles Datdude Knight
Charles Datdude Knight Iphone 4 is three years old. Dont hate just cuz your phone is three years old and will not get the update android offers. Apple does gives their iphone owners to update. Not the carrier.
Dalton McVey
Dalton McVey This is the most ignorant excuse to get an iDevice I've ever heard. First off, my Droid Incredible a 3+ year old phone, is running the latest android OS. 4.2.2. With all of the features enabled. Secondly, Apple does not update all their phones. If anything, they're quite selective about the features they give you, so you still have a reason to upgrade to their latest out-of-date new release. Siri could have worked on older models just fine. Turn-by-turn directions should have been on any model with a GPS in it. Yet they're not, because then you'd be more likely to keep your phone. http://ipod.about.com/od/iPhoneQandA/f/What-Devices-Are-Ios-6-Compatible.htm
Brandon Johnson
Brandon Johnson Jesse if your galaxy s2 runs better than any iphone you've held they must have all been the 4 and below. I went to buy the 4S and was messing with the S2 thinkin of buying it and the damn thing got hung up so many times, I just put it back down and went on about my business.
Carl Dale
Carl Dale lol my Sensation xe is still on 4.0.3 :(
Romi Max
Romi Max yes.. but it shows that they care. I doubt that Google sees themselves as charity company. They all are trying to make money. Targeting different markets. I like that Apple doesn't desert you once you bought their device. I like that Google doesn't desert you as much as other companies, like Samsung, do either.
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling they care about making money off their users.apples main demographic is old people,and pretee-teens;in other words,those who need an easy to use phone that anybody can figure out no matter how stupid,behind with,or new to technology.
Gordon Christie
Gordon Christie i thought the upgrades were part of the agreement with google and android so why hold up the upgrades or not issue them if its part of the agreement they have
Adam Smith
Adam Smith get rid of bloatware and battery life will improve. People shoudn't need to root their smartphones to get better battery life and backup their phones. It should be standard just like food part of human rights.
Wendy Reid-Greyson
Wendy Reid-Greyson I had an S2 and it was not only the glitchiest phone that I have ever had, but I had to exchange is 3 times because of echoing problems.
Mark Belkowski
Mark Belkowski dont care as i change phones every 6 months.
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling manufacturers have to cut deals with carriers to make money and vice versa;thats how we wind up with skins.
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling NEVER buy the first version of anything.The second one will always be better and smoother
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling latest?oh the most old and stale overdone to death,you mean? ;) my galaxy s2 runs better than any iphone ive ever handled
Eric Butts
Eric Butts And im not even gonna start on what you mean by "like with anything, you get what you pay for". Huh? lol
Eric Butts
Eric Butts Really Paul Kirincic? You don't think security threats and privacy info on your device is or should be a civil right? Haha hysterical!
Wendy Reid-Greyson
Wendy Reid-Greyson If you always want the latest updates and the smoothest running phone on the market..... Go iPhone!
Abram Wenevermet Dennis
Abram Wenevermet Dennis This is one of the biggest turn offs about owning an Android.. I remember owning the first EVO & after it recieved froyo it became barely usable because of bugs that were never addressed.
Paul Kirincic
Paul Kirincic Software updates is not a f'ing civil right. Like with anything you get what you pay for.
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling if youre bitching about how much something costs,chances are you dont actually have that big of a need for it ;p
Malcom Buckhannon
Malcom Buckhannon Hell yea we should get all the updates!
Matthew Swanson
Matthew Swanson Since the length of most cell phone contracts is 2 years, I think that the manufacturers should ensure that their software is kept completely up to date for AT LEAST that long.
Ike Gordon
Ike Gordon Yes they need to push updates across the board I hate when you purchase a phone and then 6 months later they bring out a new handset with the latest upgrade but your phone never gets updated
Eric Butts
Eric Butts John N Crystal Greenshaw, and you're rooted too right? If so, it doesn't really apply to the point of this article.
Tony Passalacqua
Tony Passalacqua My phone cost a lot and I pay $100 a month for service. It's the least they can fucking do
Kenneth Robbins
Kenneth Robbins As long as every update has been tested, ran through the dryer and stamped "A-Ok," I don't see why Android users shouldn't be given the latest software(s). But at the same time, everyone should have an option to download or not to download. It was almost like the recently forced Jelly Bean update (for certain carriers & phones). I like the newer software as long as it works with, or along side my "home launcher" (Next Launcher 3D), or other applications I use. The Jelly Bean update screwed me, and many others over on several apps until the developers either fixed the problems, or went around the problem/cheated the issues.
Jordan Brown
Jordan Brown If you're gonna pay hundreds for the phone and be locked into a 2 year contract, then yes, you deserve the latest software.
Abram Wenevermet Dennis
Abram Wenevermet Dennis Google shouldve done like Apple did from the start.. control everything!
John N Crystal Greenhaw
John N Crystal Greenhaw I'm on a sgs3 running 4.2.2, so I'd say it's updated.
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling some skins are very good and highly rated,but i think they should be optional.something you can remove or deactivate to the extent you want
Arturo Atherly
Charles Datdude Knight
Charles Datdude Knight AH AH, apple gives update to all their phones, even doe its not the full update. Its what the phone storage can handle. GET AN IPHONE!!!
Jeremy Carter
Jeremy Carter Yes
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling and thats fine for you.but i personally dont like doing that.id rather have stock with optional updates and details about whatll change.youre not really updating,just customization.for example i have a motorola XPRT which i LOVE however its stuck on jellybean and i know this thing can handle stock ICS.however it simply isnt available for it.
Eric Butts
Eric Butts What is being outlined in this complaint is exactly what ive been saying for a couple years now. The answer to your question is absolutely customers should get regular updates, not just limited to but especially when they are tied to an agreement. When should security vulnerabilities ever be ignored and not remedied asap? Correct me if im wrong, but other countries get regular updates from carrier's right? If so, is this one of the reasons?
Steve Hartsock
Steve Hartsock Roger. It's the fault of both. Software is pretty much dictated by the carrier at this point and then tested by the OEM. Both have bee lax.
Josh Billingsley
Josh Billingsley Root it and choose your own software
John N Crystal Greenhaw
John N Crystal Greenhaw Jesse, I decide when I get updates by romming my phone.
Roger Schubert DeOliveira
Roger Schubert DeOliveira Gordon what does the carrier have to do with a phones software?? Blame this on companies creating their own skins.
Steve Hartsock
Steve Hartsock The ACLU?? Ooook.
Zach Chapman
Zach Chapman I've been waiting for HTC to roll out Jelly Bean for my girls VX, still no dice!
Romi Max
Romi Max Even if Apple doesn't make many changes to the OS, it shows that they care about their users and release bug fixes and stuff quite often. I like getting updates.
Curtis Owens
Curtis Owens 2 years really isnt that long to be sending out updates. so yes I expect updates for at least 2 years if the phone is even somewhat popular.
Kyle Hill
Kyle Hill They should have them optional like the iPhone has it.
Gordon Christie
Gordon Christie Manufacturers should make the carriers issue updates cos it could be their products that suffer carriers tho dont seem to care tho
Jordan Scarano
Jordan Scarano They should send out latest software
Jesse Ling
Jesse Ling The people should decide.It's not a matter of deserving or not.Nobody can decide who deserves and doesnt.It's about having decent options.

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