Samsung sued for not updating Android on older phones

How long should a handset maker be obliged to support old hardware?

Samsung sued not updating Android smartphones
Credit: REUTERS/Albert Gea

The Dutch Consumers' Association (DCA), or Consumentenbond as it is known in its native land, is suing Samsung for not providing timely software updates to older models of its Android smartphones. The move was driven in part because Samsung has such a strong presence in Holland, and because Samsung is pretty bad about supporting old phones, as I've learned through personal experience.

According to DCA's own research (PDF file), at least 82% of Samsung smartphones available in the Dutch market examined had not received any software updates to the latest version of Android in two years.

The DCA is demanding that Samsung provide its customers with clear and unambiguous information about how long they will receive updates to their particular phone. The group also feels Samsung provides insufficient information about critical security vulnerabilities and wants more transparency concerning updates. Finally, the DCA is demanding that Samsung actually provide its smartphones with updates.

In particular, the DCA noted the nasty Stagefright bug, which was discovered to have affected over 1 billion Android devices worldwide this past summer. Stagefright forced Samsung to implement a security update process to fast-track security patches over the air when security vulnerabilities are uncovered and push the security updates once per month. However, the group said Samsung isn't doing that, especially for older handsets.

The DCA said it contacted Samsung to discuss the matters in December but got nowhere, which led to the decision to go to court.

Samsung's Benelux office did respond to a Samsung enthusiast site's request for comment with a fairly bland statement:

“At Samsung, we understand that our success depends on consumers’ trust in us, and the products and services that we provide. That is why we have made a number of commitments in recent months to better inform consumers about the status of security issues, and the measures we are taking to address those issues. Data security is a top priority and we work hard every day to ensure that the devices we sell and the information contained on those devices are is [sic] safeguarded.”

Now, the Dutch have a pretty good point. Samsung is terrible at providing updates. Android "Marshmallow" has been out since October and still isn't on any Samsung device, even the Galaxy S6. Many mid-range, low-level and older Samsung devices never got the Stagefright patch. And their support for Windows Phone is even worse.

A few years back I took a chance on the Samsung ATIV SE, which was a vaguely similar phone to the Galaxy S4 that ran Windows Phone 8. But while Lumia owners had version 8.1 pushed out as soon as Microsoft released it, ATIV SE owners were left wondering when it would arrive. It didn't happen until months later.

On the flip side, I can see how, with the rapid advances in mobile tech, companies don't want to be stuck supporting older phones. At least Apple gives its phones a few years. It also has a much smaller ecosystem to support. Samsung has a ridiculous number of phones out there. Perhaps the ease of supporting the phones will come with fewer models.

Also, Samsung puts its own software on top of Android, which undoubtedly slows the process of adopting new versions of Android. The much-lauded Google Nexus 5X and 6P just run plain Android. That makes it easier to keep current.

All excuses aside, Samsung has gotten away with shoddy support for a long time. I'm glad the Dutch finally called them on the carpet, and hopefully a few more dominos will fall.

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