Samsung Can Ignore Updates For Old Phones

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Legal victory in Netherlands means tech giant is not obliged to update older generation smartphones

Samsung could be about to deliver a service that many Windows Phone users will be familiar with, after a court in Holland ruled it cannot be forced to update the software on older mobile phones.

It comes after a consumer association in that country had argued that Samsung should update its phones for at least four years after they go on sale.

But the court rejected this assertion because of its assumption that it is related to a “future act”.

Court decision

Samsung had been taken to court in Holland after the consumer group Consumentenbond alleged that Samsung was not distributing updates in a “timely” manner.

Samsung of course is one of the world’s leading smartphone makers, with its handsets running Google’s Android operating system.

Google regularly produces Android updates that address newly discovered security flaws, and these updates are offered to phone manufacturers such as Samsung. However, it is often up to the phone manufacturer themselves to distribute the update to its customers.

This piecemeal patching issue was starkly illustrated in April, when Germany’s Security Research Labs (SRL) conducted a two-year study into the state of Android security, focused on the monthly updates that Google issues.

Those security researchers found that in some cases, Android smartphone makers had allegedly told users that smartphone’s software had been updated with monthly patches, when in actual fact it hasn’t been updated at all.

Into this stepped Consumentenbond, which also said that many of Samsung’s handsets no longer received any security updates at all. It claimed Samsung should support phones for at least four years after they first go on sale – or for at least two years after they were last sold.

In the Netherlands Samsung guarantees consumers there will get software updates for two years after a handset first went on sale in the country.

According to the BBC, Samsung also said it issued updates in a “reasonable” timeframe, after testing that they would be compatible with its devices.

And the court felt the same when it ruled in Samsung’s favour and said the claims made by Consumentenbond were “inadmissible” because they related to “future acts”.

The court decided it was not possible to order Samsung to update all phones for four years, without knowing what type of bugs and flaws may be discovered in the future.

Disappointing ruling

Consumentenbond reportedly said the ruling was “disappointing”.

“Samsung chooses to bring so many models to the market, there is no-one who forces them to do so. An automobile manufacturer must also ensure that all its models are safe and reliable and remain so. Samsung has the same obligation,” it was quoted by the BBC as saying.

However, the group said the lawsuit had “achieved something”.

“During the legal procedure, Samsung has taken steps to provide consumers with better information,” the group said.

Samsung meanwhile told the BBC: “We are satisfied with the ruling. The judge has acknowledged that Samsung is doing more than enough to ensure safety of its products.

“It is a pity that the court route taken by the Consumentenbond has unjustly cast our update policy in a negative light, as the ruling shows that we take the security of the smartphones we provide to consumers very seriously.”

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