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Samsung Phone Owners Unable To Delete Facebook And Other Apps. Anger And Privacy Concerns Result

Some consumers have learned that they can't delete Facebook and other mobile apps from their Samsung smartphones. Bloomberg described one consumer's experiences:

"Winke bought his Samsung Galaxy S8, an Android-based device that comes with Facebook’s social network already installed, when it was introduced in 2017. He has used the Facebook app to connect with old friends and to share pictures of natural landscapes and his Siamese cat -- but he didn’t want to be stuck with it. He tried to remove the program from his phone, but the chatter proved true -- it was undeletable. He found only an option to "disable," and he wasn’t sure what that meant."

Samsung phones operate using Google's Android operating system (OS). The "chatter" refers to online complaints by Samsung phone owners. There were plenty of complaints, ranging from snarky:

To informative:

And:

Some persons shared their (understandable) anger:

One person reminded consumers of bigger issues with Android OS phones:

And, that privacy concern still exists. Sophos Labs reported:

"Advocacy group Privacy International announced the findings in a presentation at the 35th Chaos Computer Congress late last month. The organization tested 34 apps and documented the results, as part of a downloadable report... 61% of the apps tested automatically tell Facebook that a user has opened them. This accompanies other basic event data such as an app being closed, along with information about their device and suspected location based on language and time settings. Apps have been doing this even when users don’t have a Facebook account, the report said. Some apps went far beyond basic event information, sending highly detailed data. For example, the travel app Kayak routinely sends search information including departure and arrival dates and cities, and numbers of tickets (including tickets for children)."

After multiple data breaches and privacy snafus, some Facebook users have decided to either quit the Facebook mobile app or quit the service entirely. Now, some Samsung phone users have learned that quitting can be more difficult, and they don't have as much control over their devices as they thought.

How did this happen? Bloomberg explained:

"Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, said it provides a pre-installed Facebook app on selected models with options to disable it, and once it’s disabled, the app is no longer running. Facebook declined to provide a list of the partners with which it has deals for permanent apps, saying that those agreements vary by region and type... consumers may not know if Facebook is pre-loaded unless they specifically ask a customer service representative when they purchase a phone."

Not good. So, now we know that there are two classes of mobile apps: 1) pre-installed and 2) permanent. Pre-installed apps come on new devices. Some pre-installed apps can be deleted by users. Permanent mobile apps are pre-installed apps which cannot be removed/deleted by users. Users can only disable permanent apps.

Sadly, there's more and it's not only Facebook. Bloomberg cited other agreements:

"A T-Mobile US Inc. list of apps built into its version of the Samsung Galaxy S9, for example, includes the social network as well as Amazon.com Inc. The phone also comes loaded with many Google apps such as YouTube, Google Play Music and Gmail... Other phone makers and service providers, including LG Electronics Inc., Sony Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., have made similar deals with app makers..."

This is disturbing. There seem to be several issues:

  1. Notice: consumers should be informed before purchase of any and all phone apps which can't be removed. The presence of permanent mobile apps suggests either a lack of notice, notice buried within legal language of phone manufacturers' user agreements, or both.
  2. Privacy: just because a mobile app isn't running doesn't mean it isn't operating. Stealth apps can still collect GPS location and device information while running in the background; and then transmit it to manufacturers. Hopefully, some enterprising technicians or testing labs will verify independently whether "disabled" permanent mobile apps have truly stopped working.
  3. Transparency: phone manufacturers should explain and publish their lists of partners with both pre-installed and permanent app agreements -- for each device model. Otherwise, consumers cannot make informed purchase decisions about phones.
  4. Scope: the Samsung-Facebook pre-installed apps raises questions about other devices with permanent apps: phones, tablets, laptops, smart televisions, and automotive vehicles. Perhaps, some independent testing by Consumer Reports can determine a full list of devices with permanent apps.
  5. Nothing is free. Pre-installed app agreements indicate another method which device manufacturers use to make money, by collecting and sharing consumers' data with other tech companies.

The bottom line is trust. Consumers have more valid reasons to distrust some device manufacturers and OS developers. What issues do you see? What are your thoughts about permanent mobile apps?

Comments

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Chanson de Roland

Though it is being reported as news, using apps on Android to collect users' data has been happening for years. Google has routinely done it with its apps. So Facebook is just getting in on the act. What's wrong with this is at least that the owner of the phone or other device gets no notice or is presented with a take it or leave deal that is cloaked in legal argot, which means that users, unless they are lawyers, don't give any knowing consent to either preinstalled or permanent apps or to any app’s collection of data.

And, of course, the Editor is right: Disabled does not mean inactive. And, even if it did, so what? You should still be able too choose your apps. That forcing consumers to use preinstalled apps and placing apps on Android to the prejudice and/or exclusion of competitors is exactly what the EU Competition Authority charge Google with and found it guilty of.

And, of course, the Editor is right again: This is almost certainly happening with other devices and apps, especially any device that has an Android operating system.

Apple doesn't pre-install undeletable third-party apps. Even most of Apple's apps can be deleted from the iPhone or iPad. I know, because I've deleted at least two of them. And certainly apps can be deleted from the Mac. Apple is just more ethical than Google, Facebook, and Samsung on these practices, policies, and issues, and is more protective of its customers’ privacy and their security, and respects their dignity, whereas Facebook, Google, and Samsung don’t, because to do so would diminish their profits.

You can argue that Apple can afford to be more ethical because its business model makes money by selling goods and services, instead of by monetizing users' data. Fair enough, but nothing stopped Google, Facebook, and/or Android from adopting Apple's rather traditional business model. Those companies chose to monetize users' data because of their greed, just as Apple today still chooses not to. But even if greed has driven you to sell your users like whores, there should still be some limit. Even a pimp doesn't pistol-whip his bitches in the face or beat them so badly that they can't work. Where are Facebook, Google, and Samsung's limits?

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