In a blog about Android security, the ACLU suggests that AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile are engaging in "unfair and deceptive business practices" by failing to warn their customers about known, unpatched security flaws in the Androids they distribute.
The ACLU isn't faulting the service providers for the flaws -- it's complaining that the carriers are too slow to issue the patches that fix them.
"This is in sharp contrast to the norm on the desktop, where Mac and PCs both receive regular security updates directly from Apple and Microsoft," the ACLU says. "Apple also provides regular security updates to mobile devices, such as the iPad and iPhone. And it is standard practice for the companies that make almost all widely used software -- such as operating systems, web browsers and third party applications -- to issue regular updates to their software, including security fixes."
The complaint appears to be the ACLU's attempt to consolidate accountability for the slow patching of vulnerabilities in the Android, which is manufactured in a variety of different form factors by a host of different manufacturers -- all of which are on different patching schedules.
"If the mobile carriers are not going to provide important security updates, the FTC should at a minimum force them to provide device refunds to consumers and allow consumers to terminate their contracts without penalty so that they can switch to a provider who will," the ACLU says.
It will be interesting to see what the FTC does with the complaint. In the past, the commission has levied penalties against companies that failed to maintain good security practices and put their customers at risk of data theft. But in this case, the complaint does not point to any specific breach -- it states that the carriers are deceiving customers by failing to warn them about potential vulnerabilities.
Whatever happens with the FTC, the idea of consolidating accountability for Android patching is a good one. As it stands, Google is responsible for identifying the flaws and fixing them, and it is issuing patches at a record rate -- but it can't ensure that all of the different Android device manufacturers and service providers patch their products quickly. If the FTC sides with the ACLU, then those patches may get out faster -- and Android devices might be safer to use.