ACLU: Android fragmentation creates privacy risk

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
The slow update schedule for smartphones running Google's Android operating system, along with the resulting fragmentation in OS versions on the platform, creates a security risk for owners of those phones, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

iphone 4s
Android version distribution. via Google.


The ACLU has asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to look into the policies of U.S. wireless carriers, who the ACLU says are too slow to upgrade the operating systems of the Android phones they support. The ACLU, reports SiliconValley.com, says that the lag in software updates leaves smartphone users with out of date and dangerous systems.

The group filed a 17-page complaint this week, naming AT&T, Sprint, Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon among the carriers that have ignored the warnings of experts and government officials, who say that a failure to update software gives hackers an opening to steal data. The complaint says the carriers are exposing their customers to "substantial harm" by not pushing out software updates quickly.

Google makes its Android operating system available for free to a wide array of manufacturers, and the search company works with those manufacturers to ensure that updates to the OS will work on devices that can support it. Once updates are tweaked for individual devices, though, they are then pushed on to the assorted wireless carriers, who test them for compatibility with their own networks.

Sprint, the third-largest wireless carrier, has said that it follows "industry-standard best practices" to protect its customers, while Verizon says it pushes out patches "as quickly as possible." Industry observers, though, say that the carriers' inability to push out updates quickly is more reflective of their struggles in adapting to the fast-moving smartphone sector.

The ACLU's complaint notes that only two percent of the hundreds of millions of Android handsets on the market today are running the most recent version of Android. The majority of handsets run a version released in the last two years, but nearly half of all Android users are running software older than that. This fragmentation of the Android market has led to many users being locked out from some software offerings, such as Facebook Home. It has also led to no small level of discontent within the developer community, with some predicting that independent developers will be squeezed out due to their inability to develop across so many version numbers.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 118
    Nobody cares . It won't affect Google revenue . All people care is the display physcial size .
  • Reply 2 of 118
    gtrgtr Posts: 3,231member
    This is nothing compared to what's happening in the iPad Mini camp!

    http://verynicewebsite.net/2013/04/spot-the-error/
  • Reply 3 of 118
    gtrgtr Posts: 3,231member
    Nobody cares . It won't affect Google revenue . All people care is the display physcial size .

    Twitter seems to care:

    http://www.droid-life.com/2013/04/18/twitter-launches-music-service-forgets-that-android-is-the-mobile-os-dominating-the-world/

    And if all people care about is display physical size then I'd say the iPad and iPad Mini have Google's smartphones totally licked!

    ;)
  • Reply 4 of 118
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,582member
    A lot of iOS users commenting on the article too at Droidlife
  • Reply 5 of 118
    Android is a fragmented mess, but they're mixing up patches and versions. A person running an older version of Android can still get patches to fix flaws, but might be waiting a long time to get a newer version of Android (like ICS or JB).

    And why is the ACLU getting involved? The market will take care of itself without them having to get involved.
  • Reply 6 of 118
    rcfarcfa Posts: 763member
    Apple has its own set of problems: if you have e.g. an iPhone 3G with the most up-to-date version of Facebook or Skype on it that phone can run and you need to reset it for any reason, you can't ever install these apps anymore because iTunes updates always to the latest versions which can't be installed anymore (minimum OS version too high) and the backups don't back up apps.
    So users lose functionality they once had and are either forced to buy newer hardware or stick with a device that has less functionality than before the reset.
  • Reply 7 of 118


    I cannot help but wonder how long it will be before the Android fragmentation becomes shatter, as that OS breaks apart & disintegrates, with so few handsets being able to update the OS.


     


    If / when it does, OS will stand for something other than Operating System, & I don't mean 0 Support. image

  • Reply 8 of 118
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,687member
    rcfa wrote: »
    Apple has its own set of problems: if you have e.g. an iPhone 3G with the most up-to-date version of Facebook or Skype on it that phone can run and you need to reset it for any reason, you can't ever install these apps anymore because iTunes updates always to the latest versions which can't be installed anymore (minimum OS version too high) and the backups don't back up apps.
    So users lose functionality they once had and are either forced to buy newer hardware or stick with a device that has less functionality than before the reset.

    Apple doesn't sell the 3GS anymore and the vast majority of iPhones are on iOS 6. In addition, if you have the 3GS, don't upgrade the apps in iTunes. In addition, developers are told they need to support ios version N and N-1.

    There are many Android sold with 2.x. The flagships may not be, but the cheapies are.
  • Reply 9 of 118


    Google really screwed up the Android brand by allowing low quality manufacturers to damage the brand by not supporting any of their released devices. Ironically, the now Google owned Motorola was probably the worst offender in this regard. Google's Nexus devices though are kept up to date, but unfortunately they share the Android brand with the low quality, never updated devices.

  • Reply 10 of 118
    igrivigriv Posts: 1,177member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by EricTheHalfBee View Post



    Android is a fragmented mess, but they're mixing up patches and versions. A person running an older version of Android can still get patches to fix flaws, but might be waiting a long time to get a newer version of Android (like ICS or JB).



    And why is the ACLU getting involved? The market will take care of itself without them having to get involved.


     


    I completely agree that ACLU seems to be reaching. They have plenty of actual civil liberty infractions to worry about these days. As for Android, it is hard to understand how Google managed to design the android world so poorly. You would think that they would have licensed the thing in such a way that anything claiming to run android would have top be up to date.

  • Reply 11 of 118
    igrivigriv Posts: 1,177member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TogetherWeStand View Post


    I cannot help but wonder how long it will be before the Android fragmentation becomes shatter, as that OS breaks apart & disintegrates, with so few handsets being able to update the OS.


     


    If / when it does, OS will stand for something other than Operating System, & I don't mean 0 Support. image



     


    Don't worry about Android too much. The high end devices are quite consistently running the latest major version (4.x in this case).

  • Reply 12 of 118
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,687member
    igriv wrote: »
    I completely agree that ACLU seems to be reaching. They have plenty of actual civil liberty infractions to worry about these days. As for Android, it is hard to understand how Google managed to design the android world so poorly. You would think that they would have licensed the thing in such a way that anything claiming to run android would have top be up to date.

    Google doesn't care. It makes its money from search. You can still search using 2.x.
  • Reply 13 of 118
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,438member
    gatorguy wrote: »
    A lot of iOS users commenting on the article too at Droidlife

    There's life after droid?
  • Reply 14 of 118
    rcfarcfa Posts: 763member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jungmark View Post




    Quote:

    Originally Posted by rcfa View Post



    Apple has its own set of problems: if you have e.g. an iPhone 3G with the most up-to-date version of Facebook or Skype on it that phone can run and you need to reset it for any reason, you can't ever install these apps anymore because iTunes updates always to the latest versions which can't be installed anymore (minimum OS version too high) and the backups don't back up apps.

    So users lose functionality they once had and are either forced to buy newer hardware or stick with a device that has less functionality than before the reset.




    Apple doesn't sell the 3GS anymore and the vast majority of iPhones are on iOS 6. In addition, if you have the 3GS, don't upgrade the apps in iTunes. In addition, developers are told they need to support ios version N and N-1.



     


    That's not really the issue. The issue is, that Apple's system is either broken, or intentionally set up such that minor mistakes require you to buy new hardware if you want to retain the same functionality.


     


    One solution would be if iTunes would analyse what iOS devices are synced with a particular computer, and if it would not suggest to update apps in the iTunes library beyond the point where they will be workable on the devices synced. Another solution would be if iTunes could download from that AppStore certain milestone releases of software that are the newest releases still working on certain versions of iOS.


     


    There are now many apps that only support iOS6. My iPhone is running iOS6, my (original) iPad is forever stuck at iOS5. Obviously I want the newest versions of the apps on my iPhone, so my iTunes library automatically suggests, (and I download) the newest versions, such as to install them on my iPhone.


    If for any reason I need to reset my iPad, I'll be up the creek without a paddle, because there's no way for me to download the older versions of these apps again which are now installed on my iPad. After a reset, my iPad would be half the device it is now, and I would be forced to buy a new device.


     


    Greenpeace should look at the forced resource wasted through planned obsolescence rather than make bogus claims about e.g. Apple's data centers.


     


    A friend of mine got someone's old iPhone 3G. Had Skype and Facebook on it. To get the phone unlocked through AT&T required a reset of the device. But by now, these versions of Skype and Facebook that run on iOS 4.2.1 are no longer downloadable. So now the phone is unlocked, and Facebook and Skype are gone forever. Forced hardware upgrade. Skype and Facebook are "free" apps, but there are for purchase apps where there's the same issue. So not only is your device functionally downgraded through the reset, you're also deprived of software for which you actually did pay money for, unless you buy new hardware.


     


    Totally uncool, and basically class-action lawsuit material. Sort of like you buy a car, but if you have to reset the engine management computer more than two years after you bought the car, the electrical windows stop working, and if you want a car with windows you can open, you have to buy a new model.


     


    There's no technical reason that Apple couldn't maintain a database of the highest version of iOS each device can digest, and then retain versions of apps for download for these cut-off releases. Since Apple musters out groups of devices, this isn't such a big deal. Even the original iPhone can run 4.2.1. So iOS 4.2.1 would be one such cut-off release. The next cut-off release is 5.1.1 for e.g. the original iPad. 


    So all Apple would have to do, is to keep available for download the newest version of apps that were available for these cut-off versions, provided it did exist. Obviously I'm not saying developers should retain backwards compatibility forever, or should back-port apps. But Apple should keep older versions available for download for older devices if such software at some point was available in the past.

  • Reply 15 of 118
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,438member
    rcfa wrote: »
    Apple has its own set of problems: if you have e.g. an iPhone 3G with the most up-to-date version of Facebook or Skype on it that phone can run and you need to reset it for any reason, you can't ever install these apps anymore because iTunes updates always to the latest versions which can't be installed anymore (minimum OS version too high) and the backups don't back up apps.
    So users lose functionality they once had and are either forced to buy newer hardware or stick with a device that has less functionality than before the reset.

    I think you're looking at the wrong backup: if you backup your phone to iCloud or iTunes it indeed doesn't backup your apps, as Apple allows you to simply re-download them again. True, latest version. But I backup to iTunes, and backup my iTunes media folder. And Time Machine keeps perfect records of old apps which I can reinstall at will.
    igriv wrote: »
    Don't worry about Android too much. The high end devices are quite consistently running the latest major version (4.x in this case).

    But what happens after Google releases a new version? Does it depend on the carrier if one can upgrade, or do people simply go to Google.com to update their phone?
  • Reply 16 of 118
    Samdroid does have bigger screens & bigger more aggressive advertising campaign, should be easy for Apply to remedy, add bigger iPhone & bust loose with some cash for aggressive marketing
  • Reply 17 of 118
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,115member


    It is odd they did not name Google, HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony as well. This is primarily the fault of Google that rushed the design of Android so they did not get the ability to update Android as needed.  For proof, look to MS and Windows that shows it is very possible to design a component based OS supplied by multiple hardware vendors and provide centralized updates. Google simply took the cheap and easy way out and never considered updates as part of the feature set of Android.

  • Reply 18 of 118
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Steven N. View Post


    It is odd they did not name Google, HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony as well. This is primarily the fault of Google that rushed the design of Android so they did not get the ability to update Android as needed.  For proof, look to MS and Windows that shows it is very possible to design a component based OS supplied by multiple hardware vendors and provide centralized updates. Google simply took the cheap and easy way out and never considered updates as part of the feature set of Android.



    The hardware makers decide what/when to update to the version of OS they want to support.  It's up to each mfg. to update which ever model they want to and then it gets submitted to carriers before they are approved and released.  It's just the downfall of the Google/Android business model and how it is organized, or in this case, disorganized.

  • Reply 19 of 118
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,612member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by rcfa View Post


     


    That's not really the issue. The issue is, that Apple's system is either broken, or intentionally set up such that minor mistakes require you to buy new hardware if you want to retain the same functionality.


     







    Oh please.  Get off your soapbox.  By your rationale, I should be p!ssed that a reset of my old Palm Pilot will forever remove my apps too.  



    We come across some folks with the 1st-gen iPads that are forever stuck in OS5.0 running certain enterprise-apps at our shop.  We do out best to make sure whatever app we create is iOS5.0 compatible.  That's fine for business stuff and we try.  The problem is not with Apple necessarily, but the app developers themselves to make every app as compatible as possible with older system.  Even then, there's a balance in deciding that certain features only available in the newest OS warrant an iOS6+ minimum level to use.  That's the reality of it all.



    However, guys like you complain that your iPad can't upgrade past 5.0 and get the newest, greatest apps.  Too bad.  You know why??  Because the next thing you'll do if you were ever to upgrade is immediately complain that Real Racing 3 runs like crap on it.  That's exactly what you'll do.



    Name one device that is 100% future-proof.  Don't worry... we'll wait... /s

     

  • Reply 20 of 118
    rcfarcfa Posts: 763member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by igriv View Post




    Quote:

    Originally Posted by EricTheHalfBee View Post



    And why is the ACLU getting involved? The market will take care of itself without them having to get involved.


     


    I completely agree that ACLU seems to be reaching. They have plenty of actual civil liberty infractions to worry about these days. 



     


    Just think about who is going to exploit these loopholes besides criminals, and you know why the ACLU is getting involved.

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